Most Memorable Reads of the Past Three Years

… Which would be the past five years except I didn’t start keeping track of my reading list until 2012. Oh well! I saw this idea on someone else’s blog, and really liked it, the idea of going beyond just the year about to end, and seeing what books have stuck with you for the long haul.

2012:

Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman. And the sequel is coming out in 2015! I can’t wait.

The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett. Meeting Tiffany Aching for the first time was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

Paladin of Souls (and Curse of Chalion, but especially Paladin), by Lois McMaster Bujold. The joy of reading an intelligent, engaging fantasy with a middle-aged woman as a heroine. We need more of those!

2013:

The Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Oh, what a beautiful tale this was.

Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. I don’t know that I’ll ever re-read this one, but it was so, so powerful and moving.

The Grass-Widow’s Tale, by Ellis Peters. Proving that sometimes a book doesn’t have to be deep to stir one.

2013 was also my year to read heaps of writing memoirs/collections of essays. All of them were wonderful, but the highlight of them all was The Wand in the Word.

2014:

Ultraviolet (and Quicksilver, but mostly Ultraviolet), by RJ Anderson. Gahhhh, this book.

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. Oh, how I adore this one! I keep looking for a used copy to buy for my very own – somehow a new one just wouldn’t feel right.

Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist. Not necessarily the best spiritual memoir book I’ve ever read, but definitely one that made me ponder, and gave me great encouragement in my constant struggle between being hospitable and being a deeply private introvert.

Cruel Beauty, by Rosamond Hodge. The closest any other book has ever come to conjuring up the sense of awe and beauty I got from CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces.

I read plenty more books, in the last few years, that I enjoyed and even loved, but these are the ones that went beyond that in one way or another, to really stick with me. I read so much, so quickly, that for a book experience to stand out in my memory, it has to have something about it that separates it from “ordinary” great books.

My reading goals for 2015 are to read fewer books (my desire as always, to soak in good literature instead of tearing through it at my usual blink-and-you-miss-it pace), to read some good long ones (Bleak House is sitting suggestively on my nightstand), and to read at least 12 non-fiction books. Non-fiction is so rewarding for me, and yet such a struggle for me to get through. I really want to improve in that regard.

I hope your past few years have been excellent reading ones, and that 2015 proves even better!

 

 

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Top Ten New-to-Me Authors in 2014

0e479-toptentuesday2Check out The Broke and the Bookish for more great lists

I was surprised, when I looked at my list of 2014 books, how many of these authors were new to me this year – I feel in many cases as though I’ve been reading them for years! Always a good sign, when an author feels like an old friend upon the first read.

Sage Blackwood I read Jinx on January 2 this year, I believe. Just barely squeaked in for being new in 2014! I adore Jinx and the gang, and am eagerly looking forward to the final book in the trilogy, coming in 2015. As a bonus: I’ve gotten to know Sage through Twitter, and she’s an awesome person as well as awesome writer.

Rosamond Hodge I’m not always on board with fairy tale retellings, but hearing that Cruel Beauty was based more off the Cupid and Psyche myth than Beauty and the Beast, and that Hodge was inspired greatly by CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, I knew I had to read it. And I was not disappointed. Can’t wait for Crimson Bound, her next novel.

Helene Hanff I can’t believe I made it to the ripe old age of 30ish before discovering 84, Charing Cross Road. On the other hand, I might not have appreciated it fully had I read it when I was younger, so there is that.

RJ Anderson So I pretty much can’t go for too many blog posts before singing the praises of Anderson’s books. I like the Faery Rebels series, but my real love is for Ultraviolet and Quicksilver. I also kind of love the fact that RJ was a fanfic writer before her own work started taking up all her time, and that she still is a huge supporter of it. Woo-hoo! She’s also on Twitter, and also great to chat with there.

Jaclyn Moriarty I haven’t loved all Moriarty’s books equally, but the ones I loved, I really loved, and even the ones I didn’t like as much I still enjoyed. The only one of hers I didn’t care for was The Murder of Bindy MacKenzie, and that was mostly because I disagreed with some of her basic assumptions about teenagers in that book. All the rest of them, though, especially The Year of Secret Assignments and A Corner of White, I found great.

Martha Wells Another author for the “how on earth did it take me this long to discover her?” list. Wells writes fantasy, and I’ve yet to find a book by her – and I’ve read many this year – that I dislike. All of them thoughtful, nuanced, original, and grand.

Anna Dean A writer of Regency mysteries who doesn’t butcher the era! It’s a miracle! When looking for something fun, light, and not-irritating, these books are a great choice. Just try to ignore the blatant Emma references which give away half the plot in A Gentleman of Fortune.

Merrie Haskell Another writer of fairy tale remakes, but with such a thoughtful (and thought-provoking), lyrical, and lovely way of doing so that I don’t even mind. Castle Behind Thorns is my favorite of hers so far.

Andrea K Host Indie writer from Australia – do you really need me to say more? Yes? Well then, how about that I tore through her Touchstone trilogy, leaving most of my household chores undone to do so, in record time. Incredible world-building and convincing characters, with none of the pitfalls to which we indie authors are prone (in other words, well-edited, formatted, cover-ed, and just plain well written). I’ve also read her Medair duology, and am looking forward to delving into more of her works in 2015.

Sharon Shinn My most recent discovery. I’ve read Troubled Waters and its sequel, and loved them both. Shinn’s writing is quiet and strong, carrying you along with her characters and weaving you into her world almost without you even realizing it until you come up for air and wonder where you are.

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There you have it! 2014 proved to be a very good year for me, new author-wise. Hard to believe 2015 could match it, but then, I think I said the same thing in 2013. We shall see what the new year brings!

Book Recommendations: Sci-Fi

Time for another book recommendation post!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been something of a sci-fi fan, but never got into the hardcore stuff. Star Wars, movies and novels, made up the majority of my fascination for a long time. Star Trek, especially Voyager (yes, in watching the show now I can understand people’s irritation, and am frustrated myself, at the weak storylines and bland character developments when it had SO MUCH MORE POTENTIAL, but it’s still my favorite of all of them) was a mainstay of my teenage and college years. As an adult I discovered Doctor Who and Firefly, and though my relationship with Doctor Who has soured to the point where I no longer care about it in the slightest, it was wonderful for a while. And I adore Firefly (ZOE!!!). I also get a kick out Warehouse 13, and one of these days I am actually going to watch The X-Files.

But … those are all TV shows. And movies, counting Star Wars. There aren’t a whole lot of books which I’ve read in the sci-fi category. And none at all on my shelves, save for a few holdovers from my Star Wars EU days. So I’m always looking for more.

What I love in sci-fi is not just cool technology and spaceships, although I do love those. And I’m not one who is into all the science-y talk, and figuring out the possibilities and probabilities of Faster-Than-Light speed or the like. Aliens are cool, but not essential. I really like just good old-fashioned space opera, the small drama of human existence played out against the wide background of space (or the wide background of a bigger universe than one we’re aware of – like Warehouse 13. It doesn’t have to be space, though I admit I love that best).

So, here are the few books/series I’ve read and enjoyed, and one or two I’ve tried and now wish to steer clear of, and please feel free to hit me up with more based on what I’ve already tried!

Star Wars Expanded Universe. I sold most of my Star Wars EU collection before one of our moves; it was a wrench, but I really didn’t read them anymore, and the New Jedi Order books had left me feeling rather cold toward the EU in general. I kept my X-Wing novels, though, at least all the ones before the NJO, as well as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and Hand of Thrawn duology. Oh, and Mike Stackpole’s I, Jedi. I saved all those because I would love them whether they were Star Wars or not, they were just fun, fun reads. And glad I was that I did when Aaron Allston died and I was able to re-read all the Wraith Squadron books by simply going down to our storage unit in the basement and pulling them out of a box there.

The Vorkosigan Saga. I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books first, and loved them so much I turned to her Vorkosigan books as soon as I finished Paladin of Souls. I read Cordelia’s Honor first, and loved it but was so overwhelmed that it took me a little while before I could read The Warrior’s Apprentice. That pattern has remained, in fact. I love each book that I read, but I have to take long breaks in between them because I get so intensely involved in them as I read. And I absolutely cannot read them before bed, or my mind races like crazy all night long!

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. These books, by Ann Leckie, are so, so good. Rich characters? Check. Sci-fi and alien concepts used to bring home truths about our own societies and thought processes? Check. Intricate, well-developed plots? Check.

The Touchstone Trilogy. By Andrea K. Höst, an indie writer from Australia. These novels, written in diary form by the teenage protagonist, a girl from our world thrown all of a sudden into a strange new universe, are brilliant. I’m dying to re-read them, but making myself wait until I finish writing From the Shadows, which is also written in diary form from the perspective of a character thrown out of her ordinary world into a new one (of sorts). There are enough similarities there that I don’t want to let myself be accidentally influenced by Höst. I’m saving the trilogy re-read as a reward for finishing my own work.

Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, by RJ Anderson. Oh my. I love these books. Not space opera, but glorious nonetheless. Ultraviolet especially was so gripping and so unexpectedly moving to me, in a way I hadn’t experienced since reading A Ring of Endless Light.

Now for the ones I’ve tried but didn’t love.

Honor Harrington. I really, really enjoyed the first one. The second one dealt with some topics which turn my stomach, and while it might have handled them well (they are so distressing to me I cannot possibly be objective about how they’re handled – I had the same problem with the Phryne Fisher books), it made it impossible for me to continue with the series.

Ender’s Game. I read it because it’s a sci-fi classic. It was, I thought, really brilliantly written. But I didn’t enjoy it. That’s all I can say on that.

To close, I will mention that I have the first book of CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series coming to me through ILL, but there was a glitch and it got held up for about two weeks, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But I’m excited to try when it does get here!

There you have it, my list as best my memory (and my Goodreads lists) can serve. What do you recommend, or recommend I avoid in my search for more awesome-to-me science fiction books?

Update:

Doris Egan’s Ivory books have been recommended (and I ordered the first one already!)

Two people (blog and FB) recommended Anne McCaffrey: the later Pern books, the Talents series, and the Crystal Singer series.

Also recommended was Shannon Hale’s MG superhero book Dangerous.

 

Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit

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Oh man, how to narrow this down to ten?

1. Wales. Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander chiefly are responsible for my love affair with Wales. Between Prydain and Will Stanton I was hooked early, and Brother Cadfael and Celtic lore in general only strengthened my love. I’ve even attempted to teach myself the Welsh language, that’s how much I love it.

2. The Rest of the UK. I have read way too many books set in England, Scotland, and Ireland to not want to visit every corner. Carl is looking at getting his PhD in either Scotland or England, and the thought of actually living there for 3-4 years seems like a dream. A really good one.

3. Greece. Books like MWT’s Queen’s Thief series and CS Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, and Lloyd Alexander’s The Arkadians, not to mention all the Greek Mythology I grew up on (did anyone else ever play the board game By Jove? Friends of ours owned it, and we would play it all the time) kindled in me a deep, deep desire to someday visit the land that has inspired so many wondrous stories.

4. Oxford, England. I know I already listed Great Britain above, but Oxford deserves its own special spot. Not only is it the home of my beloved Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, but so many of my favorite authors attended or lectured (or both!) there, that I can’t even imagine walking around there.

5. Mankato, Minnesota. Maud Hart Lovelace based Deep Valley on Mankato, her own home town, and someday I intend to visit there and pay my respects to Betsy Ray properly.

6. Prince Edward Island. Because Anne and Emily and Kilmeny and the Story Girl and Jane and Marigold, that’s why. Because LM Montgomery. And because it’s beautiful.

7. Mythology is to blame for a lot of my travel lust, it seems, because I also really want to visit the Scandinavian countries due to my fondness for Norse mythology. Also, as with PEI, because I think they’d be beautiful. And because Carl’s heritage is largely Swedish. But mostly because of myths.

8. Colorado. The first time I read Susan Coolidge’s Clover and In the High Valley, I fell in love with her description of Colorado. I am 100% certain it’s nothing like that today, but I would still love to visit and see for myself.

9. Egypt. Yup, blame it on the myths again. Also on Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game. And the Amelia Peabody books.

10. Narnia. I know it’s not a real place. But oh, how I’ve always wished it was.

As always, check out The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten lists.

Top Ten Books About Friendship

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1. Betsy-Tacy et al, Maud Hart Lovelace. I know I rave about these books a lot. But I love them, and they don’t get half the recognition they deserve. The friendship between Betsy, Tacy, and Tib (and various others who dance into and never out of their lives) is a beautiful thing, and my Joy has been searching for a best friend to be a Betsy to her Tacy ever since we first read the first book.

2. Chronicles of Prydain, Lloyd Alexander. Another series that doesn’t get half the recognition it deserves, and that I love dearly. The Chronicles are about many things, but among them is friendship. The final scene in The High King (not giving any spoilers in case you haven’t read it!) makes me choke up every time.

3. The Year of Secret Assignments, Jaclyn Moriarty. This book was recommended heavily to me on Twitter, and so I picked it up from the library even though contemporary YA isn’t usually my thing. And I’m so glad I trusted the recommendees’ judgements, because it was such a beautiful portrayal of modern day friendships, and the pitfalls and joys therein.

4. Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island, Rainbow Valley, LM Montgomery. All of the Anne books have friendship woven through them, but it’s a much bigger theme in these three. The friendships Anne forges with Diana and the other Avonlea girls, and with Matthew, Marilla, and even Mrs Lynde, are such an integral part of AoGG. I personally think the bits of AotI between Anne, Priscilla, Stella, and especially Phil, are the best (well, maybe except the end, between Anne of Gilbert!). And Rainbow Valley, featuring the friendship between the manse children, the Blythe youngsters, and Mary Vance, is a sweet tale of childhood.

5. The Horse and his Boy, CS Lewis. Not necessarily about friendship, per se, but it is a strong thread woven throughout the story. The friendships between Shasta and Bree, Hwin and Aravis, Aravis and Shasta, Hwin and Bree, and Shasta and Corin are all fabulous, and I like the portrayal of friendship between kingdoms, too, with Narnia and Archenland being so close-knit.

6. The Grey King & Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper. The friendship between Will and Bran in these books is meant to reflect the friendship between Merlin and Arthur, and without those strong bonds, the Old Ones would have fallen and the Dark would have risen forever. And in the end, it is only friendship that saves Bran, and saves the world.

7. Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. OK, I did put this one in mostly as a joke. But seriously, I do enjoy this book, and it does revolve around one central characters who connects all the others (the titular “mutual friend”), so it isn’t that far out there.

8. Sorcery & Cecilia, Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Yet another book on my list that isn’t technically about friendship, yet would be nothing without the relationship between Kate and Cecy, and between Thomas and James.

9. Heroes of Olympus series, Rick Riordan. If these books aren’t about friendship, then I don’t know what is. That’s all.

10. Breadcrumbs, The Real Boy, Anne Ursu. I first read Breadcrumbs last year, and I read The Real Boy in one fell swoop last night, and oh, they are so good, and the friendships so poignant and truthful, full of the perils of everyday friendships as well as the ways they are our salvation. Read them! They’re good.

There you have it, my Top Ten. Check out more lists at the Broke and the Bookish.

Bits and Pieces

-I’m working hard to get Magic Most Deadly up and running by the publication date. I’m trying to play it cool (not really), but inside I’m jumping up and down and squealing.

-To celebrate MMD’s launch, I’m running a giveaway on Goodreads. Check it out and enter for a chance to win a paperback copy (US and Canada only, sorry).

-When I planned the date for MMD’s cover reveal, I missed the fact that it was happening the same day as Alex Cavanaugh’s book launch for CassaStorm, the third and final book in his Cassa trilogy. Poor timing on my part! So now I’m a week late, but still – go check it out. Alex is a great guy, and a huge support and encouragement to writers and bloggers online. Wishing you great things with this book, Alex!

-After finishing everything with MMD, I suffered from writer’s ennui for a while. Do any of you experience that? Just kind of drifting about, feeling empty, even if you have another project you’re in the middle of or about to start? It takes a while to dissipate, but the fog is clearing now, and I think I’m ready to dive back into Wings of Song.

-After that (or during, depending on how the muse strikes), I have the next Maia and Len book to write. I’m already excited about that.

-One thing that possibly helped shoo away my ennui was all the fun we had last week. My dad was visiting, and we went to the aquarium, ocean, library, playground, and just generally had a great time. Definitely help fill my creative well.

Ocean

Ocean

-Happy Monday, all! Next Monday will (providing all goes well) be the announcement of Magic Most Deadly’s launch!

Notebooks

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I picked up a small notebook the last time I was out shopping. I was getting lined paper for Joy (who for some reason much prefers her drawings to be on lined paper instead of blank, and had run out), saw the notebooks, and on impulse picked one up for myself.

I have drifted, in the last few years, to being almost entirely a computer-writer. I have my journal, and journals of letters I write to my girls, but for anything else – stories, plots, poems, menus, shopping lists, study notes etc – I do it on my computer.

I got burnt out by social media last week. I had already been slowly coming to realize that once again, I was getting sucked into spending way too much time on the internet, and then with all the crazy happenings of last week, that time doubled.

When I found myself foaming at the mouth and wanting to unfriend and unfollow EVERYBODY IN THE WHOLE WORLD I knew it was time to take a step back.

I also knew my weaknesses. Unless I am in the throes of a story, if I’m just on the computer to jot something down – a story element, my menu plan for the week, my to-do list for the day – I find myself checking out social media without even thinking about it.

So I pulled out the new notebook, thinking it was a stroke of genius on my part to buy it, even before everything happened.

The first thing to go in it was a to-do list, none of which got done. But it made me feel better to have it written down by my own hand.

Then it was some notes for the study on Philippians I’m doing with some friends. Then it was the above picture, various story elements from my novel, trying to put them together to send some coherent ideas to my cover designer (also trying to figure out a title, which is still giving me fits, because every one I think up comes oh so close but there’s just something not quite perfect about it, and now my brain is so fried it can’t think of anything new. I loathe titles. Why can’t I just label my books Book 1, Book 2, Short Story 5, Different Genre Book 8, etc? It would be so much easier.). Then I started jotting down the outline for my next Sophie short story, which is starting to get completely away from me and needs reining in.

Oh yes, and a list of sewing projects I need to complete for the girls’ spring/summer wardrobes.

All this, and I didn’t need to open my computer, and expose myself to the temptation of The Internet once.

I see some more notebooks in my near future. This one is already filling up rapidly.