Tag Archives: Books

A year of books in review

Believe it or not, I don’t actually set reading goals every year. I simply read as much as I can, and try to read what I want along the way.

In 2019 I read 101 books. It’s hard to pick the best ones, but I’ll give it a try, in no particular order.

Of nonfiction books, I’d say the best ones I read were Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott; The Fitting Room, by Kelly Minter; Everything is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo; The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown; and Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. Each of these books gave me a lot to think about and a lot of practical applications. I’ve still got a lot of growing to do, but I like to think I’m on my way.

Of fiction books, the bulk of my reading, there were a lot of good ones, it’s extra hard to just choose the best, but I’ll try: Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier; Where’s You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple; The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern; and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy. Each of these stories provided something special– an escape from reality, a message of hope and love, or just something to laugh at.

Here’s to a new year of reading; a new year full of books to learn and grow from.

Standing in the Rainbow

The last time I went on a book buying binge, I snagged a couple Fannie Flagg books. After Fried Green Tomatoes, I’ve been really interested in checking out some of her other work.

Standing in the Rainbow is a sweeping story that follows a small town in Missouri through the decades. It focuses on one family, following them through daily life. In many ways, it’s a coming of age story. In others, it’s reminiscent of the small town way of life that has long gone away.

While it wasn’t one of my favorite books to read, Standing in the Rainbow did provide an interesting style. Instead of following a rigid story arc, it flowed along throughout the years, going where the family goes. In that sense, it was a fun read, and perfectly timed, since I read it while writing my own NaNo story (it was nice to see that a collection of anecdotes can make a whole story).

Flagg’s characters were real and relatable, in her style. So even if the book wasn’t my favorite, I’m still excited to read the other one of hers I got. But, naturally, I’ve got a lot of others in line.

Into December and Beyond

November is over, which means no more frantic writing for me (hopefully just normal writing as I try to develop the habit).

I finished my 50,000 words one day early, so I only wrote about 100 words on November 30th, just enough to finish wrapping up the story.

Now the question is, do I jump right in to editing, or do I return to the poor project I abandoned months ago? I might have some new motivation for that, since it was a kind of processing project for me for my own life, and some situations really aren’t the same as when I started (and abandoned) that project. Maybe it’ll take me in new directions.

Maybe I’ll do a combination of both. Write some, edit some, and do whatever feels more fun every day.

Plus, I do often have to challenge myself: what’s the point in editing a book if I’m not going to do anything with it? Because, to be honest, I’m not in a mental position to go out there and start pitching my books. And sure, I can always self-publish, and maybe that would be somewhat successful, but I’m just not quite feeling at that place yet. But maybe soon. I’ve got to cultivate my creative confidence a little more.

When you don’t have a map, write one

The further I try to go on in this project, the less I know where it’s going, it seems.

I’ve come to the realization that once I start writing, I don’t like to use “writing” time to think ahead, to plot out where my story is going. I feel like I ought to be writing, instead of just thinking about writing (it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, since it’s still productive, but, I never said my mind worked clearly).

But this week, in what little time I’ve had, I’ve made myself do some thinking, planning out where my story is going. Because it’s hard to write otherwise, and I’m trying not to fall into the slump where it’s hard to write because I don’t know what to write, but I don’t want to take the time to figure out where I’m going.

The driving force behind this project, the last few weeks, has been my opportunity to wrestle with hopes and dreams and feeling like giving up. Sometimes writing things out, even things you know, helps them sink in in a new way. And sometimes, you have to allow yourself to sink a little bit into the darkness in order to better appreciate the light, to remind you there are things out there worth waiting for.

Everything else about this story has been up in the air. But I’ve got a little bit more clarity now, and I’ll continue to fine tune some of the details as I go along this week. But I think  I’ve ironed out (mostly, anyway) the biggest hitch, which was why there was so much animosity between the two halves of society, and what is the catalyst that prompts any sort of action within the story. I knew that the people who lived outside the cities didn’t like the people who lived wrapped up in technology and virtual reality. But, when the story hinged around these people planning something against their “enemies,” things started to make less sense. I realize that, within humanity, it’s really not so far fetched to hurt someone simply because you don’t like them. But I wanted something deeper, and I found it.

Instead of any one half of society attacking the other, these two girls who have learned the middle ground are interested in exposing the lies everyone has been believing and creating a new, unified society. It will mean breaking down barriers and dismantling stereotypes. It will mean people learning to embrace change and differences. It will mean agreeing to disagree, and not allowing that to be poisonous.

These kinds of big changes are scary, and can be seen as rebellion. So when Aliyah gets in trouble, she has to wrestle with whether it’s worth pursuing. Do you chase after your big dreams, even if the people who benefit don’t deserve it? Do you continue to reach for a better life, even if part of you believes you’ll never get there? When life kicks you down, is it even worth getting back up?

When I first started in on this project, I thought it was a story about a girl who sought refuge in books, who used them to hide from reality. Now, that’s not even worth mentioning, in the grand scheme of the story. Now, it’s largely become about discussing these big questions. If it ever gets finished and published, it’s possible some people might look at it as a critique on government, technology, even environmentalism (at least, that’s what people could think based on what it is now), and while those themes are things that I’m looking at, and may grow to be bigger topics as the story progresses, at it’s core, these big life questions have shown themselves essential. They are the story that’s begging to be told. And I hope the answer will be helpful to some, even if I don’t know what it is yet.

For all I know, they give up and nothing changes. I haven’t finished wrestling yet.

Tempests and Slaughter

When I was a teen, Tamora Pierce was my favorite. I remember reading everything she had, waiting anxiously for the library to have what I get wanted next. So when she finally decided to write the back story of Numair, a well-known figure in the Tortall realm, I was excited. And when we got the advanced reader in at work, I and as even more so.

Tempests and Slaughter starts when Numair is a child, still going by his given name, Arram Draper, only 11 years old, and follows four years of his schooling with his best friends, a smart girl called Varice, and one of the royal heirs, Ozorne.

Arram faces trials and finds that mages sometimes must do things they don’t want to do for the sake of learning, and for helping others. Arram realizes that the future he’s planned with his friends may not be possible, if he can’t reconcile himself to certain social injustices the Carthak society praises.

This book is very much a character building platform. It’s all about setting up the character, identifying certain character traits, and preparing for more action to come in following books. That said, I honestly felt that it lacked drive. The story meandered on, and I think it would have benefitted from being shortened. Even the moments of tension just fizzled out without anything really coming from it.

Additionally, at least in the very beginning, the writing style felt very childish, and that made it difficult to press on.

While I’m not writing off the series just yet, this first book was a little disappointing to me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve grown out of Tortall, or if it truly isn’t quite the same as before. But, I’m hopeful that the next book in the series will take off and reestablish Pierce as one of my childhood favorites.

A fresh beginning

So, obviously December didn’t really go as planned, as far as writing was concerned.

Work got in the way, and I was tired and desperate to watch as many Christmas movies as I could. January has been off to a slow start too. I hardly feel like I know what I’ve done with the last week, and get it’s gone, just the same.

But a slow start is better than nothing, and I will be intentional about returning to my editing, wrapping up the project I’ve been working on most of 2017 and choosing one of my other projects to return to.

While I’ve enjoyed a break to carelessly watch tv and soak in reading, I’m excited, too, to return to the creative process.

In the book review department, I’m hoping to meet at least the goal I met in 2017. My goal was to read 52 book, one per week. I think I had review blogs posted every week, but after counting, I know I read at least 55 books, because that’s how many I reviewed. Not bad, I’d say. (Some of the reviews won’t be posted on my blog until later in January, though.)

So, here’s to a new year full of creative opportunities. Join me in creating this year, and tell me what your project is going to be.

Keeping the momentum going

November this year feels like it falls weird, in terms of weeks. I’m not even sure if I’m in the third week of writing, or where I am. It’s throwing me off, mostly just for knowing what week to reference in these blogs.

Whatever week I’m wrapping up and starting, I’m still, surprisingly, on track. Last week was challenging, my schedule changed a little and I got really behind. I managed to still write each day, which is more than I’ve managed in years past. And over the weekend, I managed to write about 10,000 words, so, that bolstered my confidence.

I got some additional planning done too, mapped out a few extra chapters, though the end is still ambiguous.

This week will be possibly the hardest to keep on track. With Thanksgiving, and the kick off of the busy season at work, I know I’ll be tired and busy with family. But, if I use the time I have and I’m intentional about it, I know I can stay on track.

And at some point, I’ll have to cast my mind out and decide on the ending.

This story has already changed so much from what I first expected it would be, I’m excited to see where it ends. And then January will be time for editing and revising. But, we’re not there yet. It’s still November, and still time to write with abandon.

And the good thing about Thanksgiving being early this year is that, after the weekend, I’ve still got several days left for binge writing. I’m confident that not only will I hit the goal of 50,000, but I’ll be able to write the ending too.

So, here’s to soldiering on, even through food comas and all the rest.

Nano Week Two

As week two is wrapping up of this magical writing adventure, things are going well for me.

I’ve been writing every day, which is a big success for me. And I’m on track to finish on time, so even though I haven’t been getting ahead like I’ve wanted to, I’m still where I need to be.

I’m thinking this week I’ll have to focus a little bit more on planning, as I’m quickly coming up on the end of everything I’ve planned out thus far. But, the good news is that in the last couple days, as I’ve been writing and thinking about where this all may lead, I’ve got some ideas, and some that I think will be surprising to anyone who reads my book at some distant point in the future.

For me, this is the exciting part about writing and always has been, that moment when the story starts to tell itself as you go along, and you start to uncover layers and twists that you’d never even dreamed of when you started. It’s when the hazy ending you thought you were headed for starts to clear up, and you see you were totally wrong. Some people might find that maddening, but for me, it’s exciting.

In just a couple days, I’ll reach that halfway point in the month, and in my writing (for the basic goal of 50,000 words, my goal in the last few years has been to finish my project, which is usually a little bit more than 50,000). As always, I’m hoping to store up a little cushion in the week to come so that I don’t have to worry if I don’t get so much written during Thanksgiving weekend (I’m having a hard time believing that’s already next week!).

All in all, the month is progressing well, and I’m struck once again at how much smoother things seem to flow when I’ve done even a rough outline of planning. I still get stuck at certain points, trying to figure out what else to add to a chapter to make it more than a page long, but I don’t find myself getting so far behind because I’m stuck and don’t know how to move forward. If I don’t know where to go, I move on to the next chapter. There’s the rest of forever for editing and revising, and now I know that’s something I’m capable of doing as well. It’s easier this year for me to tell that little voice inside my head to shut up and let me write. We’ll deal with the mess later. For now, there’s a story bursting to be told, if even just to myself.

Into the Wild

If you’ve ever done NaNo before, you know it’s wild. If you haven’t, I’m sorry.

We’re getting close to a week in to NaNo, and so far I’m caught up. I got off to a slow start with some long days that didn’t leave much time for writing. I steal as many moments as I can, but I really am most successful when I can sit down for an hour alone and just write.

But my story is progressing smoothly. I plucked names out of thin air, so I haven’t had to use fillers yet, which is pretty great. And even in these early stages, some of the upcoming unknowns are starting to hint at resolution.

I have not done any additional planning for the later portions of my story, which I’ll need to start doing fairly soon. Because although I’ve got something like 13 chapters plotted, those chapters will go by very fast. I never seem to be able to milk them for as many words as I want to. Oh well.

So to anyone else writing, we can do this. And to those supporting us, thank you. And the rest of the world, we’ll see you in December.


Seriously, sometimes I think I majored in the wrong thing. From a young age, I remember always thinking it would be cool to be an astronaut. For now, though, I’ll just live vicariously through their biographies.

I was excited to see an advanced copy of Scott Kelly’s biography, Endurance A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery. It took me only a couple days to read through it.

Like many astronauts, Kelly got his start as a military test pilot, though the road to test pilot was anything but easy. Kelly had a rough time focusing in school, which meant his grades were anything but stellar. Kelly reflects on how Tom Wolfe’s book, The Right Stuff, was crucial in inspiring him to put his mind to the task of doing well in school so he could reach his ultimate goal of becoming an astronaut.

Once part of NASA, Kelly’s main desire was to fly shuttle missions as the pilot or the commander. Once he’d had a taste of long duration space missions, however, he realized they weren’t so bad either. Kelly’s career culmination was a year-long mission on the International Space Station during 2015-2016. The mission’s main objective was to see how the human body reacts to such a long time in space. Kelly was also able to contribute uniquely to the study because his identical twin brother, also an astronaut, stayed behind on Earth, which meant NASA could compare and contrast data.

The story is told alternately between chapters talking about Kelly’s past–everything from childhood to college to early days at NASA–and chapters talking about Kelly’s year-long mission on the ISS. While it’s a little different technique, instead of starting at the beginning and working to the end, I think it works in Kelly’s case because many people reading his biography will remember the mission, and be anxious to get those behind the scenes glimpses. I think the mixture will inspire people who might otherwise skip to the end to read the whole book.

Kelly is able to write about real danger and emergencies, and write about real tragedies, in a way that captures, I think, the attitude behind so many astronauts, that despite the dangers, the payoff is worth it.

All in all, it was an excellent read. Not too technical and not over-dramatized, Endurance reads like a sit down chat where Kelly tells you his life story, and you’re anxious to catch every word. When this book hits stores in mid-October, whether you love biographies, science, space, or just real-life adventure, this is one book you should make sure not to miss.