Sep
03
2010
19

A Year of Reading 365 Books

Or not: 180ish books this year. Goodreads reports 168, but with a few friend’s books, a few books that would make me blush, and quite a few I forgot to mark down, I’m suspecting it is about 180 that I’ve read since last September. However, I am currently reading 18 books.

Now do you believe me about the ADD?

Kidding.

Sorta.

Anyway, the goal was 365 books in a year: one book a day. I read approximately one book every two days, which isn’t bad, in retrospect. I’m going to aim for 250 books this year. We’ll call it Book-a-Day Challenge: Year 2. Why not? I still want to reach 365 one year, but it’ll have to wait until I have a little less writing to do.

I did learn a few lessons. First, I have a tendency to finish books that are… lackluster. Second, I have trouble finding books that grab me and make me LOVE reading. Third, if I go through a dry spell of those exceptional, wonderful books, I lose my interest in reading.

So this year, I intend to be a little more picky when I choose books and spend more time finding those awesome reads. Also, I got lazy about keeping track. This year, I want to mark down every book I read right away, before I forget.

The following are the best of the best. If you want a full list of all the books I read this year, go to my 365-challenge Shelf at Goodreads.

Books That MaDe Me Love Reading

  • The Child Thief by Brom: Vivid, vivid writing. You can tell he has a comic background, because his writing is so visual. What blew me away the most was his use of verbs. His writing is so active. And it’s a wonderfully dark and dangerous Peter Pan story. LOVED it.
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins: What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Probably the best YA to come out… ever? Killer writing, the kind of writing so good it’s depressing and inspiring, all at the same time. A series to make teens examine war and the older people who send young people off to fight war.
  • Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey: Eight books so far, and this series rescued me from a blah reading streak. I love this series. It’s adventure fantasy in a world ruled by the precept: Love as thou wilt. And the erotic acts are beautiful and spiritual. It’s just beautiful, beautiful.
  • Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead: The best vampire story in the young adult section. Yes, better than Twilight. Way, way, way better. Definitely one of the top five series in the YA section.
  • Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes: A werewolf book that breaks every expectation and cliché. Parts are hard to read for we adults who are hardwired to protect children, but that is what makes it excellent reading for kids.
  • This Charming Man by Marian Keyes: Marian Keyes is an Irish storyteller through and through. This Charming Man is not chick lit, but it’s also not like women’s fiction. It’s just an awesome story through and through, with a lot of heart and a great message. Loved it.
  • Swoon by Nina Malkin: This book appears, at first glance, as if it’s a standard YA. But no. It breaks every cliché. I thought about this book for a month after I read it. Plus it gets kinky, so thumbs up on that one! ;-)

Punctuation, Be Still My Heart

I find style, grammar, and punctuation to be close to orgasmic. So. Not. Kidding. I can’t get enough. I hated this stuff in school, ignored it for years, and tolerated it when I first started writing. Something snapped in me a few years back and I totally geeked out on it. These were wonderful.

Books to Think By

Yes, I am staying in Arizona in the border zone (it is a 30–mile deep zone, at the very least—not a fence line). With helicopters flying overhead all the time, Border Patrol everywhere, migrants tracking northward right behind my RV Resort, road blocks where you’re asked multiple times a day if you’re a U.S. citizen, and hundreds of people dying in the desert, the first order of business was to educate myself on the issues.

  • The Border: Exploring the U.S.-Mexican Divide by David J. Danelo: If you have an opinion on the border, I am more likely to take it seriously if you’ve read this book. It is honorable journalism that presents almost all sides, intricacies, and subtleties of the border, written by a retired Marine and reporter. It is an unbelievably complex issue with so very many layers, and if your politician has led you to believe that the solution lies in one or two sentences, then please read this book.
  • The Death of Josseline by Margaret Regan: I’m going to be honest; it’s not the best writing I’ve read, but these are real stories collected from years of walking and doing in the border zone. These are true stories so heartbreaking that no matter how they’re told, they’ll make you cry. And they made me feel deeply ashamed and horrified at how our government is handling the border.
  • The World of Mexican Migrants: The Rock and the Hard Place: This book studies the life of Mexican migrants in the United States and in Mexico: where they came from and why, and the conditions they find in the U.S. Again, there are no easy solutions, and we had a hand in creating this situation, and thus a responsibility to do more than just write off migrants seeking honest work as criminals.

Friends to Be Proud Of

It was a great year for my friends! And, dear God, I fear I’ve left someone out. I hope not! I’m sorry. Do let me know if I have. Please. And okay, I don’t really read books not available on Kindle, even though I buy them. (“Okay,” as you’ll see by the end of this section, apparently also means “I’m sorry and please don’t hate me but—”)

And I get so nervous reviewing friends’ books. I’m terrible at it. I never do them justice, so I totally freak out. I get writers’ block about, swear to God.

  • Write with Fire by Charles Gramlich: Nitty-gritty awesomeness of real, practical advice on the writing business, the writing life, and the writing craft. It’s written with short chapters that make it particularly inspiring to read one a day before you sit down to write.
  • Dark and Disorderly by Bernita Harris: Bernita is one of the best writers I know. I have been looking forward to this book for years, ever since I first learned of Lillie St. Claire, a Talent who can see and help the dead. Her husband comes back to haunt her, and she must solve the mystery before he kills her. Lots of well-researched and wonderful stuff on ghosts in here, plus a great urban fantasy thriller besides. The writing: excellent, excellent, excellent.
  • Cattitude by Edie Ramer: Cats! Attitude! Romance! Totally awesome. There’s a big party today at Magical Musings, and you can learn about Belle and her story in a much more enticing way than I could ever describe it, so click here. I am so very excited for her and the book is totally awesome! Please read! Also available on Smashwords.
  • The Tavernier Stones by Stephen Parrish: Okay, I’msorryIhaven’treadityet, so it’s not officially on the list, but I couldn’t leave out this book in a list called “Friends To Be Proud Of.” I have read the beginning, and it’s fresh writing, wonderfully intricate plotting, and a book I really want to read. I bought it, but it’s a paper book. I sneeze every time I open it. It’s too precious to take to the pool, so I check every day to see if they’ve released it on Kindle yet. (Here, will you do me a favor and click this: “Tell the Publisher! I’d like to read this book on Kindle.”)
  • Freudian Slip by Erica Orloff: Okay, this also is not officially on this list because I read it a over a year ago, but the title of this part is “Friends To Be Proud Of.” The story and characters are fresh and creative in a wonderfully mind-bending way, and as with all of her books, it’s got a ton of heart. Loved it. She also released the second book in her Magickeeper Trilogy, which I know I’ll love, but it was not originally available on Kindle so I haven’t read it yet.
  • Eight for Eternity by Mary Reed and Eric Mayer: A‑freakin‑mazing. The setting for the mystery is to die for: 6th century Constantinople during the Nika riots. I got this book free to review, and I’m ashamed to say that I loved it so much, that when it came time for me to review it, I got writer’s block because I felt so inadequate at conveying how very good this book is. I want so very much to tell you how wonderful this series is, but Sue O’Brien from Booklist describes it better: “Reed and Mayer bring the time of the Nika Riots in Constantinople to vivid life in this eighth installment in their series, capturing the burning city, the mob mentality, the panic in the castle as the rioters come ever closer, and the effort to convince Justinian to use whatever methods are necessary to keep his throne.”
  • Stupid Cupid series by Rhonda Stapleton: Hilarious with heart. Utterly charming YA with a lot of heart. The idea? Cupids are not little angels shooting arrows, but people with little hand computers whose arrows are emails. In this series, they hire teens to be cupids in high schools. LOVE IT. Totally awesome series.
  • The Fallen by Mark Terry: Again, I can’t officially include this in the list because I read it a couple years ago, but—title of this section?—of course he’s a friend I’m proud of! Mark Terry sent this book to me as a birthday gift when I first got my Kindle! I love his fast-paced thrillers and have a bit of a crush on Derek Stillwater, if I’m to be honest. The Fallen has probably undergone a bunch of changes since I read it as Angels Falling, so I plan on re-reading the first three books before the fourth book comes out.
  • Claimed by Zoe Winters: Oh man, Anthony is HOT. And yummy. And I love this book. *fans self* Did I mention how much I love Anthony? I don’t think there’s any sex in it, actually, but Anthony sure is… yummy.

Books to Live By

One habit that didn’t die after I quit teaching was that I still tend to pick up every book on education and motivational psychology. I’m not much for feel-good stuff, and this year there were several well-researched and practical books whose lessons I applied successfully.

So those are the best books I read September 2009 – 2010.

What about you? What are the best books you’ve read this year? Do you keep track? Are you on Goodreads?

19 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: ,
Feb
11
2010
26

Nothing in YA is Overdone.

image Whoever says that Vampire Young Adult fiction is overdone, is wrong. In general, the YA section is VERY SMALL. Too small. I’m not reading anything but young adult fiction and graphic novels until I finish my YA novel, and I’m quickly running out of things to read.

Mostly because I like dark, which means I stick mostly to gothic or paranormal.

Last night, I woke up at 3:30 am, and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I finished Swoon by Nina Malkin. I was impressed, because it was one of the few unhappy endings I’ve ever read that I’ve been satisfied with. And I can probably count them on… well, right now, I can only think of one: Swoon.

I loved Fallen, by Lauren Kate, and Prophecy of the Sisters, by Michelle Zink, but both are merely beginnings; in YA, there’s apparently less pressure to make each book in a series a stand-alone. 

Which I think is a good thing.

I really want to read Christopher Pike’s Thirst series, but it’s not available on ebook. (Phooey.) Remember Christopher Pike? When I was growing up, I loved his teen horror books. I thought it was awesome to see his books out there.

I’ll wait until it comes out in ebook, though. Hopefully they’ll publicize it so I remember about it.

image I’m behind on my book-a-day thing. I once wanted to catch up, but frankly, that would be an expensive endeavor. I talk like I can’t afford books, but it’s really that I can’t afford as many books as I read. We spend a lot on ebooks. I’m glad we don’t pay for internet or cable; all that money goes towards books. Many months, it’s “and then some.”

At least they’re all write-offable.

And finally, Random House has just shot to the top of the list as my favorite NY publisher. We all have things that are important to us, and to me, pricing and availability of ebooks is way up at #1. No, don’t tell me their boilerplate digital royalty rate, because that’s #2.

Can your wallet keep up with your reading pace? What are you reading, lately? Any particular genre? Ever run out of precisely what you’re in the mood for?

26 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: , ,
Oct
14
2009
25

The Destruction of Wonder

imageI’m still reading a book a day. I’m a bit behind, but I’ll catch up. I’ve re-read most of the Narnia series and am about halfway through the Oz series.

I also finished The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. I was enraptured by this critical book at first; Laura Miller felt and understood and expressed all the love I’d had for Narnia, as a child.

…I’m wishing, with every bit of my self, for two things. First, I want a place I’ve read about in a book to really exist, and second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so much I’m pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again.

She also describes the betrayal I felt when someone suggested they had Christian symbolism and messages. I got over that, but upon reading the Narnia books in my thirties, I was stunned at his attitudes toward females and offended by his racism.

Laura Miller managed to keep her love for Narnia intact. My love for Narnia is still there, but it’s damaged. I see C.S. Lewis mucking in his world, and frankly, he should’ve stayed out of it.

The Oz books fared no better. The writing in the first was unbearable; in the second, annoying. By the fourth or fifth, it improved dramatically, so I can forgive that.

What I can’t forgive is the endless, unrelenting political satire and commentary in the Oz books. It ruined all the fun!

What is hilarious to me is that there has been some debate as to whether or not Baum did this purposely or at all. In fact, some even get quite aggressive in their idea that any politics in the Oz books are in the eye of the beholder.

Um, no. Uh, sorry, but you’re Just. Plain. Wrong.

image There is no question at all that these books are riddled with political satire and commentary. Take The Marvelous Land of Oz. First he parodies the fears of those against the suffrage movement by having an army of girls march on Oz. They quickly win, because the men are so afraid of girls. Then they order the men to cook and watch the kids all the time. He redeems himself by making the next ruler of Oz a girl, but even that was just plain weird; he’d grown up as a boy, magically done so he would be safe.

Guess what? Baum was the secretary for the South Dakota suffrage organization. 

No politics? Really? I could give example after example. Rarely does even a page go by without some satire or commentary. And Baum was… an interesting man. He was known to give a speech at a Republican rally, and the next day, deliver the same speech at a Democratic one.

As an adult reading these, the political satire might have been interesting if I felt like doing a bit of research on the political landscape of his day, but I didn’t. It was irritating and intrusive.

I suppose the Oz series was written like some children’s movies, where they have inside jokes intended for only the adults to understand. (I hate that, also; inside jokes strike me as rude to those you know won’t understand them.)

For both series, I wanted to recapture the love and wonder I had felt for these worlds when I was young; instead, reading them was the destruction of it.

Part of why I’m reading so much this year is that I want books to be gateway into another world, again. I read too analytically. I want to love reading every bit as much as I did when I was young. I suppose that’s why I’ve chosen so many children’s books to start out my challenge.

I’m still searching for the feeling of wonder.

Any suggestions? Have you read any books lately that have swept you off your feet with a feeling of wonder and magic? Swept you into a whole new world?

25 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: , ,
Sep
01
2009
20

Reading and Writing

The Book-A-Day Challenge is going great. I’m recapturing my love of reading and writing. The fact that I get to read 365 books this year makes me feel like I have plenty of time to re-read old favorites, which has been a wonderful treat. Technically, I’m two days behind, but I’m also halfway through a book in my car, and have made a dent in three of my slow-reads. I’ll catch up.

I’ve found all the Oz books online to download to my Kindle, which makes me happy. My children’s section, growing up, only had four or five, and I’d always wanted to read all of them. Books are so much more accessible now than they were then.

Much to my relief, all this reading is already making me a better writer.

I can totally see why my writing dwindled in the last four months: my reading had dwindled down to pretty much nothing! I’m not one of those writers who doesn’t read; I’m one of those writers who is entirely dependent upon reading in order to keep going.

I can’t get rid of the guilt I feel while indulging in reading, though. I feel like I should be writing more. Working out more. Being… productive. I feel like I’m being lazy. I’m just… sitting and reading for hours a day.

That’s silly, of course. Reading is part of the job, part of the training, part of the kit and kaboodle. Part of being productive.

Right? Or? What think you? Do you need reading to write? Or do you need to not read in order to write?

20 commments so far. Add yours!
Aug
24
2009
18

The Arbitrary. The Sweets.

image The blogiverse is a bit like a magic eight ball: it always has the answer to my problems. Today I’m trying to finish a story that I’ve been trying to finish for over a year. It has two alternating plots, two POVs. And I just can’t seem to finish it.

Then I read the Intern’s post, Annihilating the Arbitrary. (If she is not currently in your reader, you must add her. Now.)

(Have you added her yet?)

Going through my WIP, I’m realizing that the pairing of these two storylines is arbitrary. Well, not entirely. They are mostly there because they will please the reader. This is a series, and the main through-line characters have unfinished business that needs to be finished, but that’s not enough for a whole story. And the second plot is needed because it’s new and yet it’s what my readers want and expect.

But that’s not good enough. There needs to be a reason for this pairing.

I usually start with my theme/s and my through-lines and my character arcs, but this time I’ve either forgotten them, it seems. So I’m making a list. I’ve dropped all the seeds; now I just need to make them bloom. And I have to tie the two story-lines together at the end in one big climax, or else it will read like a soap opera.

What’s wrong with a soap opera, again?

image And why the pictures of candy? Well, in my 365-books-in-a-year reading project, I’m re-reading some of my all-time favorites: the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series. I want to make Turkish Delight and Treacle Fudge. I’ve read about both for years. It’s time for me to try them! Although I fear I’m going to be devastated if I hate Turkish Delight.

Thanks again for all the book recommendations. I’m still wading through them and trying to make my list and post it, but it might take awhile. In the meantime, if you’d like to friend me on GoodReads, I post what I’ve read every day.

What think you on arbitrary? And what foods from fiction have you always wondered about but never tried?

18 commments so far. Add yours!
Aug
21
2009
20

The Graveyard Book

imageI started with a quick read. I don’t think I’ll blog about all 365 books I read this year, but this is the first, and this is a good one. I mean, it’s Neil Gaiman.

The Graveyard Book is one of those books that you connect with so well, you feel bits are written just for you. It’s also an inspiring reminder of how to live life—at least, how I want to live the rest of my life.

It’s about a boy, Nobody Owens, whose family is killed and he’s raised by ghosts in a graveyard, where he learns how to live life from the dead. Above is the “adult” cover, I’m told. Neil Gaiman’s books seem to work really well for both kids and adults, and it’s hard to pigeonhole some of them as either.

In the first part, there’s this quote that is so applicable to my recent decision:

“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”

I was afraid of that.

I purposely left bits of myself behind, LOL. And I’m happy to report that I am happy, annoyingly so! Bod, (short for Nobody) at the end of the story, finally leaves the graveyard, and these are his plans, which are my plans exactly!

“See the world,” said Bod. “Get into trouble. Get out of trouble again. Visit jungles and volcanoes and deserts and islands. And people. I want to meet an awful lot of people.”

The end also has another bit of wisdom:

Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken

“Leave no path untaken,” repeated Bod. “A difficult challenge, but I can try my best.”

It’s the sort of book you want to give as a graduation gift and make sure they read it and make sure they learn and apply its lessons well. But of course, that would sort of ruin the experience, wouldn’t it? Because it doesn’t read like a “lesson” book. It reads like a great adventure.

Below, Neil Gaiman does a 2-minute reading of one of my favorite parts, about a poet, Nehemiah Trot and his revenge on his critics. I think it was written for all of us writers!

(There’s a Q&A session, if you want to watch the whole talk at the National Book Festival.)

20 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: ,
Aug
18
2009
41

A Reading Challenge; Help!

I used to read two or three books a night. That was after school, after homework, after playing outside, after swim practice, after watching TV and after practicing piano. (When I was young, I used to spend two hours watching TV after school. I’d play along with commercials or practice during commercials.)

So how is it that I seem to have less time to read now, and definitely have a lighter schedule than above?

I have been envious of Lauren Baratz-Logsted, ever since I learned she reads a book a day. Jealous in a good way: I like her, and am grateful because she was instrumental in getting me my first gig at BenBella Books. (As an aside, she has a great series going on at BiblioBuffet: “The Seven Stages of My Reading Life So Far.” Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, which is my favorite. I dream of working on the floor of a bookstore, even though the pay is abysmal!)

I have been wanting to do this for a long time, but I’ve decided it’s time. Between August 18, 2009 and August 17, 2010, I want to read 365 books.*

But now I need suggestions. Will you help? Feel free to answer none, one, a few, or all questions here or treat it like a meme and answer on your own blog. If you answer on your own blog, paste the link here, and I’ll link to you in the post.

  • What book(s) made you a better writer?
  • What book(s) made you cry?
  • What book(s) made you laugh until you were in tears?
  • What book(s) made you feel like you could conquer the world?
  • What book(s) have you read three times or more?
  • What book(s) kept you up all night reading?
  • What book(s) do you want to read again?
  • Any other recommendations?
  1. Michelle posted a list on Magical Musings.
  2. Kath posted a list on her blog, Writeful Mumblings.
  3. Rachel posted a list on Facebook.
  4. Katie also posted a list on Facebook and on her newly-designed, very pretty blog—check it out!
  5. Starving Write Now has a list up on her blog.
  6. Valerie posted a list on her blog, too!
  7. Alyson Noel posted a list on her blog.
  8. Aerin recommends all the 5-stars on her goodreads list.
  9. Bee Nagel has a great goodreads list, too!

*If I get freakishly behind, I reserve the right to change it to 5 books per week (weekends off), for a total of 260 books. Don’t you love this fine print? Do you think I’m nuts? Okay, I am. I mean, I’ve read entire books backwards, just because I was curious to see what they looked like that way…

41 commments so far. Add yours!
Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: ,

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