Top reads of 2015

I shared my complete Goodreads list from this year’s reading in my last post, but I wanted to take a minute to highlight some of my favorites. Because, you know, everyone needs a few more books on their to-read list. 🙂

This was apparently a big year for reading/finishing series, so we’ll start with those.

Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (series, graphic novel): I picked this series up when I was exploring the world of graphic novels and loved it. Great story for young readers.

Jinx by Sage Blackwood (series, MG fantasy): The final book in the series, Jinx’s Fire, came out this year, and I loved it every bit as much as the first two.

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (series, classics): I had never ventured beyond the first book before this year, but I devoured the other seven in just a couple of months once I got started. Some are better than others, but all are worth the read.

The Casson Family by Hilary McKay (series, YA contemporary): This is one I’m kind of hesitant to recommend to everyone, because I’m not sure everyone would appreciate the family dynamics. But I picked up Indigo’s Star by chance at the library and had to read the rest after that. I’m a sucker for properly quirky characters, and the Casson family fits the bill.

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall (series, MG family): Another series that wrapped up this year with the publication of The Penderwicks in Spring. I adore the Penderwicks, and while I struggled at first with the leap forward in time between the third and fourth books, I still loved the final installment.

Okay, a couple of standalone books:

As You Wish by Cary Elwes (memoir): I’ve always loved the movie The Princess Bride and finally read the book last year. So when I saw that dear Westley had written a memoir of the making of the movie, I had to check it out. It was a super fun read, filled with goofy stories and little snippets from other cast and crew members.

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith (YA historical fiction, WWII): This book is SO good for covering difficult questions that don’t have answers. A beautiful story of a black woman fighting for the chance to prove her worth.

There you have it! What were some of your favorite reads from 2015?

Another year of books

“Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)

Another year of fabulous reading is almost at an end! I was wretchedly ill on Christmas, but still managed to enjoy the day reading (and rereading and rereading) Scout’s horde of new books (more just kept appearing under the tree, I don’t know how it happened). Once she went down for her nap, I pored over the absolutely stunning illustrations of my very own Illustrated Harry Potter, thanks to my wonderful husband who tolerates and indulges in my deeply rooted obsession.

I love that Goodreads gives me a visual at the end of each year showing which books I’ve read. If you’re interested, you can see my Year in Books here–not counting, of course, the scads of pictures books I’ve read aloud all year. Let me tell you, folks, I’m getting pretty darn good at Fox in Socks.

Here’s to all the books that will change our lives in 2016!

Mark your calendars!

We’re still a ways out, but I couldn’t wait any longer to announce the RELEASE DATE for my next book!

STONE ALLIANCE, the sequel to Demon’s Heart, will be released March 2, 2016. It’s been a long time in the works, and I’m so excited for it to be out for the world to read! Here’s a hint of what to expect:

***

Haunted by his transformation, Rustav must now face the Burrihim invaders without the support of his tuathan kin. But as he seeks new allies to drive back the enemy, a centuries-old grudge threatens to make him more enemies where he hoped to find friends.

Caught between the desperate needs of his country and his own fast-approaching breaking point, Rustav struggles to reconcile three estranged cultures and oust the hostile invaders before his people starve–and before he loses himself once more to the fleyder’s violence.

***

What’s going on in your writing life? Any big goals you’re reaching for?

The new picture

Last December, my first novel was published. Demon’s Heart had a beautiful cover, a legit publisher, and all my words stacked up so neat and pretty inside of it. It was in Barnes and Noble, people!

It was a big deal. This had only been my life’s dream since fifth grade. I certainly had never imagined that it would happen by the time I was twenty-four.

That whole year was kind of an upheaval for me. When I signed the contract back in March 2014, I was still a brand-new mom without the slightest idea of what I was doing in any area of my life. I juggled a lot of mommy-learning and publishing-learning, and sometimes I really wondered what I was doing there.

After the release and the fanfare and the blog tour and book launch and signing and all that craziness were over with, I went home with my little family for “quiet” (read: no Demon’s Heart-related activities) Christmas. And I wondered:

What happens now?

There were two more books in the trilogy to work on, of course. There was marketing, there was blogging, there was social-media-ing.

But I was in such a different place, and I didn’t know what to do with that. Things changed. I changed. A lot of things I thought I’d known about books and writing and the world changed.

Nine months later, I’m accepting the changes. I have a new path laid out, a path that will inevitably twist away from where I see it going, but one that at least gives me a direction to start walking.

I wanted to do something to kick off this new direction, and I decided to make it something I’ve been reluctant to do for a long while: changing my picture. See, my profile picture on all my social media accounts has been the one in the back of Demon’s Heart, because I felt like it somehow connected me more solidly to the book.

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But the thing is, I don’t look like that anymore. I started wearing glasses instead of contacts, I chopped off my hair, and all my freckles came out in the summer sunshine.

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I know, I’m not wearing glasses in this picture. But reflect-y glasses make good pictures difficult.

So this is me letting go of that insanely frazzled, lost, and terrified person of last December. This is me accepting that my goals have changed, my opinions have changed, and my paths have changed. This is me taking a few baby steps into foreign lands and hoping I’ll run into some old and new friends along the way.

Wish me luck!

Getting your book fix

I read like I breathe. I keep a book in my bag at all times. More often than not, I’m at the library two or three times a week. I’ve even relented and started keeping a few ebooks on my phone in case I’m caught without a book somewhere.

So you would think, right, that on long car trips or while I’m watching Scout at the park, audiobooks would be the thing to do. My husband loves audiobooks. My friends love audiobooks. Convenient book fix.

I can’t stand audiobooks.

It takes about twenty to forty seconds, depending on the narrator, for me to start twitching uncontrollably. They never read it the way I read it in my head. And they read so slow!! How do you ever get anywhere? And don’t even get me started on the voices. Oooohhhh, the voices. I have never met an audiobook voice that I could listen to for five minutes, let alone five hours. Not to mention that if there’s a crazy name introduced and I don’t know how it’s spelled, I spend five minutes trying to picture the spelling in my mind and miss everything that happens next. And you know, things just don’t stick in my mind when they come through my ears. I miss/forget all the important plot points and get completely befuddled when they turn up later in the audiobook. For me, audiobooks are just not the answer.

I’m curious, though–how many of you listen to audiobooks? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Tolerate ’em?

Day 3, Quote 3

My final quote is sort of a nested quote. I first discovered it in Wonder by RJ Palacio, but the quote comes originally from JM Barrie:

“Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?” (JM Barrie, The Little White Bird)

Friends, let’s all make this a new rule of our own lives. As dear Helen Burns says (yes, I’m cheating and including two quotes), “Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity.” (Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre)

There’s far too much spite and hatred in the world, and it makes me cringe when I scan past pockets of vile antagonism in every corner of the Internet. Let’s do our part to make it stop by always trying to be a little kinder than is necessary.

For my final day, I’m tagging (another) Emily at A Cup of English Tea. (There are an awful lot of us Emilys around, aren’t there?) I love her blog name, and I love her blog posts even more! The challenge is to post one quote a day for three days, and to tag one blogger each day to participate.

Guys, I really really really love quotes, and this has been such a treat! Thanks again to my fabulous Phantom friend at Inkcouragement for tagging me!

Day 2, Quote 2

Next quote! This one comes from one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITES. Yes, that just got all-capped and bolded. I am shouting it from the rooftops. I can’t count how many times I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time, and I’m captivated every time. I have four pages of quotes from this book, but there is one that I have used over and over and over in my life.

It comes as Meg, Calvin, and Mr. Murry are fighting the power of IT, and Meg begins to recite the Declaration of Independence . . .

“We hold these truths to be self-evident!” she shouted, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” . . .

“But that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.”

For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. “No!” she cried triumphantly. “Like and equal are not the same thing at all!” (Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, 146; emphasis added)

Love love love. I love Meg Murry in all her snaggle-toothed, impatient, good-hearted imperfection.

Today, I’m tagging Emily at For the Bookish. I love Emily’s posts–so fun and genuine! The challenge is to post one quote a day for three days, tagging another blogger each day to participate as well. Have fun!

Day 1, Quote 1

Guys, I love book quotes. I have a folder devoted to my favorite quotes from books I’ve read, and I reference it often. So I was practically giddy when PhantomWriter143 tagged me into the quote challenge I’ve seen floating around lately. The real challenge is that I want to just barf all of my quotes into a post, but I have to narrow it down to three–one a day for three days. And then I get to tag one other lucky blogger each day to participate as well. Thanks for the challenge, friend!

Today’s quote comes from a memoir of the fabulous Dick Van Dyke:

“I have also heard and read various accounts of why they liked me. My favorites? I wasn’t too good-looking, I walked a little funny, and I was basically kind of average and ordinary.

I guess my lack of perfection turned out to be a winning hand. Let that be a lesson for future generations.” (Dick Van Dyke, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business)

Don’t you just love that? There are so many days where I just feel like your everyday, run-of-the-mill odd duck. It’s nice to know that that very ordinariness played a key role in the success of Dick himself.

I’ll tag Julie Holmes over at Facets of a Muse for today. See you tomorrow for another quote!

Bonus content!!

demon's heart coverIn celebration of having all my files back in one place, I went wandering through some of my old, discarded story bits. Lo and behold, I discovered an alternate beginning I had written for Demon’s Heart about a billion drafts ago! The story originally started about ten days earlier than it does now, but for pacing and plotting reasons, I jumped the beginning forward for the later drafts. Take a peek!

***

Rustav made his way through the crowded streets of Markuum, the shouts of dockworkers and merchants falling heavily on his ears. Other inhabitants of the city skirted around him, either pretending he wasn’t there or shooting him furtive, disapproving glances as they passed. Nearly seventeen years of such behavior had dulled his awareness of it, and the boy had learned to appreciate being left alone. It was certainly better than the alternative.

Unfortunately, the alternative was sometimes unavoidable. Rustav could hear the heavy boots on cobblestones behind him, but he didn’t turn. It hurt less when they hit him from the back.

A rough hand grabbed his shoulder and yanked him around, shoving him against the wall of the one of Markuum’s many fish hawkers. It was Taver again, and no surprise; Rustav’s uncle Karstafel had just stolen a large load of merchandise from Taver’s father. Though Taver was a year younger and a few inches shorter, he was substantially broader than Rustav and well-liked in town.

Taver wrapped his fist around the front of Rustav’s shirt and pushed hard. Normally, the kid had more of a mouth than a fist, so Rustav nearly missed his chance to dodge the punch Taver threw at him. He jerked out of the way just in time, and Taver hit the wall.

“What’s the excuse today?” Rustav asked coolly, feigning ignorance.

“You know full well,” Taver said, a hint of desperation in his furious voice as he shook his hand. “Your blasted uncle—he’s ruining us!”

Click here to read the rest of the chapter.

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway for ERUPTION by Adrienne Quintana! You don’t want to miss this book!

Learning from others’ mistakes

This post is partially an apology. A while ago, there was an ebook on sale that I had heard great things about. I bought it and told several people that they should get it while it was on sale.

I finally got around to reading it last weekend and I–am–mortified.

Now, I’m not in the business of shaming books or authors, so I’m not going to mention the name of the book here. Just know that if you bought a book on my recommendation and it was teeming with objectification of women and erratic plot zigzags and more loose ends than a frayed rope, I apologize deeply and sincerely.

The sad part is, I don’t think the author realized how horrifyingly offensive the portrayal of female characters was. Other parts of the books made feeble attempts at telling the reader the opposite message, but, my word. I’ve rarely had the misfortune to read a book where women were so thoroughly depicted as all breasts and no brains.

The good thing that came out of all this is that I’ve gone through each of the specific issues I had with the book and held those issues up to my own manuscripts. Doing that always makes me hypersensitive to things that might be misread or problems that I didn’t realize had crept in.

I don’t recommend picking up terrible books, but if you do get stuck with one, make it useful by ensuring that you don’t make the same mistakes in your own writing.

Thankfully, I had a couple of better books on hand to wash away the bad taste. How’s your reading been lately? Any good books I should read? Any bad books I should avoid?