Tag Archives: Janet Evanovich

2014 Q4 Reading Report

Oh goodness, is this Reading Report overdue. I meant to post this early in January,  but here it is the end of the month and this is my first post of 2015. Ah well, better late than never, right? I read some great books during the last quarter of 2014, as you’ll see below. And I also tweeted about some of my reading as I read, so you’ll get some bonus photos, to make up for being so late.

October

My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult – I listened to the audiobook on the long drive from Philadelphia to Atlanta at the tail end of the Residency Road Trip. One of the most surprising things about this book, considering how sad the premise is, was that it was easy to get engrossed in the story behind the sadness. It was interesting on a legal, moral, emotional and very human level. I cared deeply about the characters, even when they were being totally annoying or foolish. It felt like a play that came alive in my car as I drove, which was really helpful considering I was on the road for over twelve hours.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes – Bought this at a sale at my hometown library. I was aware of it from how well it sold at the bookstore while I was working there, but I didn’t really know what it’s about before I started reading. It’s an incredibly grim subject matter (especially considering the book I read previous to this one), but it’s not a story that’s grimly told. Somehow, the book manages to have the blithe lightness of a romantic comedy, while very intelligently and responsibly addressing a controversial, highly charged subject. I flew through the pages, and got really invested in how things turned out.

Lean Mean 13, Janet Evanovich – I listened to the audio of this one on my way back to Nola from Georgia. I think this is the perfect way to engage with the Stephanie Plum books. I’d started to get impatient with the silliness and formulaic quality of them while reading them, but those very qualities make them such perfect stories to listen to while on the road. Not too distracting, but very entertaining. They keep me great company in the car. The lady who reads the books for the audio is very good as well.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay – Coming back from the residency, I was such a happy dork picking up all of the books the library was holding for me, especially when it came to this one. I’d been looking forward to reading it for months and it didn’t disappoint. Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State is beautiful and brutal and she brings those qualities to bear on these essays, which are also funny and silly and insightful and so, so unerringly smart. She’s one of my new favorite writers.

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith – Was very eager to read this one after reading the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. I wanted to listen to the audio, like I had for the first, but it was unavailable, so I had to be content with old-fashioned reading, which was nice in its way, of course. I just soaked up this second mystery and the dynamic between Cormoran and his assistant Robin Ellacott. Once more, I was a tiny bit disappointed with the quick and tidy wrap up at the end — both endings have felt a bit easy and unfinished. But the journey to get there was delightful.

Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman – Read the ReReading post here.

House Proud, Valorie Hart – I introduced Valorie, a friend of mine from tango, during her talk at the Louisiana Book Festival last year. As preparation for that, I pored over this beautiful design book featuring Louisiana homes, including Valorie’s own home with her late husband Alberto Paz.

November

Gates of Thread and Stone, Lori M. Lee – If I remember correctly, I learned about this one on Goodreads, in a discussion about The Queen of the Tearling and Kiss of Deception Once more, a fantasy Y/A novel, really engrossing and interesting, the first of a series (why do I keep doing this to myself? At least the sequel to this one comes out relatively soon – in March). It reminded me a bit of the books by the German author Kai Meyer, which is a really good thing.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy – Read the ReReading post here.

Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise, Wendelin van Draanen – I love these books, love Sammy Keyes and her friends and their hijinks. She’s really grown up in the last several books, finally discovering the identity of her father and having an adventure with him during the titular cruise of this book. While grabbing the link above, I realized another book in the series is already out – and it’s the last one! I’m looking forward to reading it and a bit sad I won’t be reading any more new adventures, but I have a suspicion that she’ll be in a good place by the time we say goodbye.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler – I knew I was going to love this book just from the table of contents. “Say Whatever You Like,” “Do Whatever You Want” and “Be Whoever You Are” happen to make fantastic mantras. Anyway, this book was, of course, hilarious, but also very insightful and inspiring. After writing about the day she was born, Amy Poehler recommends everyone go ask their parents about the day they were born, which made me realize I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story of the day I was born. Just one of many brainstorms and moments of inspiration.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn – Whew, boy, this book in INtense, just like Flynn’s other books. Unlikeable women who are utterly human (and sometimes monstrous in such human ways) are Flynn’s specialty. It’s a lot to ingest and I usually need a break between books, but I stand in awe of this women’s storytelling ability. I always feel a little creeped out looking at her author photo – she looks so sweet and normal, to write such breathtakingly dark and weighty books. Of all writers, she’s probably the one I’d both want to have coffee with *and* avoid in dark alleys. Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover or an author by her photo. 🙂

Worn Stories, Emily Spivak – This was a pretty cool book. Dozens of essays about articles of clothing and what they represent to the writers/wearers of the clothing. With pictures! It was an accidental find and I was curious. I thought I’d flip through, read a handful and then move on, but I ended up reading every last word. Some were twee and light, but most were (surprisingly, to me) interesting and impactful. It started out as a blog, before it was a book, and the blog continues.

December

Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones – I used to be a poet, once upon a time. Sometimes, I still find myself moved by poetry more than almost anything else. These days, while I may read a handful of poems occasionally, I almost never finish an entire book of poetry. I forget, each time, how emotionally weighty poetry tends to be. So I look at a slim volume and I’m like, “Oh, I’ll zip right through this!” But I don’t. I linger and dwell, sometimes for years and never finish a book. So, this is probably the first book of poetry I’ve finished in a long time. I “zipped through,” even though I felt like his poems were eviscerating me with razor wire. But I couldn’t stop. True to form, I obsessed over the lines and words, sometimes getting hung up for a few days before going back and moving on. [You’ll note I tweeted about picking this book up at the end of October, but I didn’t finish it till December.] I had a deadline to finish – this book was requested by multiple people at the library – and I couldn’t bear to return the book without reading it all.

Rooms, Lauren Oliver – Another of my favorite writers, though she’s so fast that I can’t really keep up. This is an adult novel from her, a gothic family story that reminded me of both The Family Fang and Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, my favorite play. The way Arcadia uses various portions of the house and estate, as well as time, really echoed here, in Rooms.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer – Oooh, this book was really important for me to read. I found myself sweating and trembling occasionally as I read it. Why is asking so freaking difficult? Why is owning your right to be and ask for what you want and need so hard? I am so very different from Amanda Palmer – in personality and demeanor and comfort zones, but I admire her so much and it turns out that she has been battling a fight that I’ve struggled with a long time. Need to re-read this every year, or maybe every six months.

Doing the Devil’s Work, Bill Loehfelm – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

Fearless Fourteen, Janet Evanovich – Listened to the audio on my trip to Atlanta to visit my parents for Christmas. It was perfect company, made the trip go smoothly (it’s always rough counting on the radio between Mobile and Montgomery).

My Sunshine Away, MO Walsh – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

So that wraps up 2014. I read some really awesome books in 2014 (A little over a hundred! Roughly, 22 nonfiction books and 74 fiction, plus some other stuff.) In this first month of 2015, I’ve already read a six-book series, a screenplay and two books of essays, all really good stuff, so stay tuned for 2015’s Q1 Reading Report in early April.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under books, Friends, literature, musing, New Orleans, poetry, Quarterly Reading Report, review, what I'm reading

The Re-Reading Project: The Princess

Key West, Florida – 1942

J.T. Montgomery stretched his long legs out in the motorboat, resting his injured calf against one of the crates in the bottom of the boat. He was the remarkably handsome product of generations of remarkably handsome people. His dark hair had been cut too short by the navy but that did not detract from his good looks: brilliant blue eyes, lips that could be as cold as marble or as soft and sweet as the balmy air surrounding him, a slight cleft in his chin, and a nose that on a smaller man would have been too large. His mother called it the Montgomery nose and said it was God’s attempt to protect their faces from all the fists aimed by people who didn’t like the Montgomery hardheadedness.

This is the post in which I confess my early addiction to romance novels. It was the summer of 1996 and I was 14 years old. We lived in a suburb of Atlanta called Marietta. Everybody was going crazy finishing the preparations for the summer Olympics. I was bored and had read all of my books several times, so I snuck an inappropriate book off my mother’s bookshelf. That book was Jude Deveraux‘s The Princess, published in 1987 (when I was 5). Each day, I read for a few hours, memorized the page number and then slipped the book back on the shelf before my mom came home. It took me longer to read than normal because I had to be sneaky, since I thought I wasn’t supposed to be reading it. My mother never seemed particularly interested in censoring my reading (I read my first Dean Koontz at age 10!), but it didn’t seem like the kind of book I should carry around the house for all to see.

The Princess cover

In fact, I was so scared and later embarrassed to be seen reading romance that I later stuck the book into a slipcover, where it has remained, on my bookshelf, ever since.

It wasn’t my first romance novel, not quite. Once, while staying with my grandmother and aunt in Ohio, I discovered a shelf of Harlequin romance novels, all published around 1986 to maybe 1989. They all featured strong, career-minded women (in bold 80s power suits) falling in love with intractable men, often in exotic locales. They were, almost without exception, between 186 and 187 pages long, so I could easily read 2 a day, even though they already felt ridiculously dated just a few years after they were published. Because they were the same size as a lot of the books I was already reading (Christopher Pike, Richie Tankersly Cusick, Lurlene McDaniel and L.J. Smith) and because there wasn’t really any sex in them, the Harlequins didn’t seem inappropriate. My aunt even shipped her whole set of 1980s Harlequins to me after my visit and I must’ve re-read each of them several times before I bought new ones at the used bookstore (10 cents each, even in 1996).

There’s actually not a lot of sex in The Princess, either. More suggestions of sex. But when you’re a precocious bookworm of a 14 year old in 1996, a little sex seems like lurid stuff. I remember thinking this book was very romantic, a cross between Roman Holiday and Candleshoe, with some Anastasia thrown in. I have read lots and lots of romance novels since I was 14 (and I still read every Gaelen Foley book pretty much the second it’s published), but I’ve never re-read my first until now. In many ways, it has stood alone among all other romance novels in my imagination over the years – partly because it was my first “real” romance novel, partly because I don’t think I’ve ever read any others set during World War I and partly because while it is named The Princess, it is more J.T.’s story in many ways.

The fact that we start with him is a bit unusual (not exactly rare, but not typical, as romance novels are usually weighted more toward the female character, in my experience). The Princess (Aria) doesn’t appear until page 9 and doesn’t speak until page 11. We don’t get her perspective until Chapter Two (page 13). They’re both relatively stock types (I might be the only person on the planet who judges romance novels for their characters), but on the re-read, now, as a 32-year-old with lots more experience (with romance novels and in life), I just didn’t like either one of them. J.T. is autocratic and passionate, but I sometimes suspect he has a personality disorder. Aria is a shallow flake whose intelligence is really inconsistent, even taking into consideration she’s been kidnapped while on foreign soil and doesn’t understand a lot of what’s around her. They’re both incredibly mean and then randomly (and unbelievably) open and warm. I don’t buy that they’re falling for each other or that either one of them is learning or changing as an individual person (which are the things that characters usually do in romance novels). I was really disappointed.

Until about page 200, almost near the end of the book. Once they return to Aria’s homeland, I actually start caring a bit about them. It made me wish that the American misadventure of the first 200 pages had been collapsed down to about 50 pages, so we could get to the good stuff sooner. And then, of course, the nefarious plot to assassinate Aria (hardly the main point of the book, though it is the plot) is wrapped up in about a page and J.T. and Aria end up happily ever after in a surprise twist. That’s sarcasm, but not really, because it is surprising that two unlikable stock characters do end up somewhat convincingly in love with each other at the end.

I’m being a little harsh, because I’m grumpy that The Princess doesn’t stand the test of time for me. The same way I was getting grumpy reading the Stephanie Plumb books and the Sookie Stackhouse series. Once you read something that feels new, you really want it to follow through, and not resort to swiftly wrapped up plots and stock characters or easy tropes. Which reminds me of an author who makes me the grumpiest – Iris Johansen. I thought her early thrillers and romance novels were wonderful, but that annoying Eve Duncan character just kept popping up and suddenly all of Johansen’s books seemed like a 300-page cookie cutters with the names replaced. I’m afraid to re-read her romance novels, honestly, though I’ve considered trying in light of this project. But essentially, the grumpiness comes after the thrill of discovering a new author or character, of falling a little in love and being disappointed down the road. And, it’s got to be hard to write something that feels new every time, especially when you’re writing as much and as fast as romance writers generally do.

Jude Deveraux was already a well-established author when she published The Princess (the copyright is held by Deveraux Inc.) and as many romance novelists do, she wrote several books about the Montgomery/Taggert families, characters related to J.T. I was surprised to read, while researching the post, she lost $20 million when she was victimized by a ring of con artists posing as psychics after the death of her young son. Not only did she participate in the indictment of the matriarch of the con artists, but she used her experience as inspiration for her book Scarlet Nights.

And while I never read another Jude Deveraux book after The Princess, I was fully hooked on romance for a while. I could say that I’ve wasted a lot of time reading what are usually only mediocre books, but I think that it was an education. Because, in a genre that relies so heavily on format, stereotypes and tropes, a genre that is generally disregarded, you have to be inventive and inspired to rise even an inch above mediocre. If  you’ve written twenty romance novels and they each have four to eight sex scenes in them, you have to get pretty creative when you’re writing a new sex scene, mostly by writing as if it’s your first sex scene. There are several sex scenes in my novel The Winter Circus and I’ve been told that I’m very good at writing them. I probably owe a lot of that to my history as a romance novel reader. Beyond this obvious takeaway, I think they’ve taught me not to disregard the power of sentiment. How can romance novels (or romantic comedy movies) make us invest, even if we feel like they are silly and unrealistic? Because they’re grounded in very real sentiments that we all feel and they’re unafraid of dealing with sentiment nakedly, as if it is something new.

I’ve considered writing romance novels, of course, but I think what might have inspired me to write them was not so much any romance novel I’ve read or what I know about the genre and industry, but the fantasy inspired by Romancing the Stone (which is still one of my all-time comfort movies and face it, basically a romance novel come to life):

1 Comment

Filed under books, music, musing, The Re-Reading Project, what I'm reading

2013 Q1 Reading Report

Another year, another batch of books. Already, 2013’s reading has been spectacular.

January

Long After Midnight At the Nino Bien, Brian Winter – This one was recommended to me by a tango friend last year. I struggled to get interested in it for the first section or so, but once I did, it was a really quick read, amusing and informative. It’s the story of Winter’s time in Buenos Aires, learning tango and getting enmeshed in community there, and has a lot of political and tango music history. Sadly, I just heard through my own tango community that the Nino Bien may have closed recently.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – I’ve loved John Green since I read An Abundance of Katherines in 2007. I’ll admit I was a bit put off by the grim subject matter of this book, but I knew it would be lovely in his hands. And it was. He writes about misfits so wonderfully and it makes sense that he’s so embraced in a world of Glee and It Gets Better because he’s been a voice telling teens to let their freak flags fly for a long time. I was already adult-ish when I first read him and I still appreciated the message. Anyways, this is one of those books that sticks with you long after you read it and you find yourself recalling it at odd, perfect moments.

Visions of Sugar Plums and Eleven on Top, Janet Evanovich – These books do not stick with you after you read them. I’d be hard pressed to tell you any specific thoughts about them a few hours after I finish them, but they are entertaining and distracting as you read. Evanovich has created a fun character, which is no mean feat, but the rest is fluff.

The Lost Heir, E.G. Foley – I won a signed copy of one of Gaelen Foley’s books, so I asked her to send me this one, a middle readers book she wrote with her husband. I already had a copy, which I gave to a friend’s son and we read the book together, talking frequently about the characters and the story. It was a really fun experience and we both loved the characters and the twists the story took. It’s a steampunk adventure in Victorian England, complete with magic and fantasy creatures and demented villains. Fans of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson Peter books will love this series, which continues with Jake and the Giant.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn – I mostly picked this one up out of curiosity, to see what all the hype was about and then I was just sucked breathlessly under the surface of the story and I didn’t come up again till I was done. I’ve rarely read such a brave, smart book that messed with my head as much. Maybe never. It was a phenomenal exercise in perspective and psychology.

February

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin – Okay, okay, I’m sure you’re tired of me reading books because I like their t.v./movie counterparts, but it’s not something that’s gonna stop anytime soon. Friends of mine have been telling me to read these books for more than a decade, but I just never thought I’d get into them. Same with the HBO show. I must’ve checked the first season out from the library three times before I finally watched it. But then I was obsessed with seeing every minute of the second season, counting down to the third and reading all the books. Talk about an exercise in perspective. Epic is the only word and it hardly seems enough. I read the first book in about a week and would’ve read it faster if I hadn’t had to sleep or work.

I Saw You…Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections, ed. Julia Wertz – This book has comic artists illustrating selected missed connections ads. I saw through a Goodreads update that a friend was reading it and was intrigued. It’s a mixed bag. Some of them are very poignant and well-executed and some are less so, but the book is definitely worth checking out.

Twelve Sharp and Plum Lovin’, Janet Evanovich – I think I’m only reading these books at this point because I hate leaving stories unfinished. I like to know what happens. Plus, I had a loan request for the next Song of Ice and Fire book and then ordered it online and it was taking forever for me to get a copy, for some reason. Had to read something.

A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin – Finally! I got my hands on this book. One of the things that most impresses me about the series is how well-developed the characters are, how thrilling it is to see the story from so many varied and contradictory perspectives. Everyone’s a villain and everyone’s a hero. The political intrigue and maneuvering is absolutely incredible. This one took me only about a week to consume as well.

March

Girl Land, Caitlin Flanagan – This is a hard book to define. A treatise (with an agenda) on the nebulous period of time between girlhood and womanhood, with research about proms and diaries of old, as well as pop culture references (but none past 1980), and a bit of a memoir aspect as Flanagan relates her own experiences. The book was fascinating, though I thought it was less successful when Flanagan started preaching to parents of modern girls at the end, making some good points, but very deluded about modern social communication and how to help girls kids interact with it. Also, she blithely says she’s the mother of boys and doesn’t have to worry about much of the danger she’s outlined, missing the significant point that parents have as much to teach boys about Girl Land, this period of female development she’s defined, as they do girls. Boys need to learn the lessons of respect for others and critical thought as much as girls do. What will change if we teach half our population something that we neglect to teach the other half? This is the same basic point Caitlin Moran missed when she defined ‘feminist’ in How to Be a Woman and left out men in her definition. Still, I’ve referenced both books constantly in conversation since I’ve read them. Here’s one review that says a lot of what I think better.

A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin – One of my friends, a huge GRRM fan, called this the “WTF?” book when I told her I’d started it and that is pretty much the best summary I can imagine. This book is wild and everything you assume will happen doesn’t and things you’d never imagine happening do. This is also the book that the current HBO season is based on, so I’m excited about what’s to come, while dreading a bunch of it as well.

The Devil in Her Way, Bill Loehfelm – My review of this one will be forthcoming, is out in 225 Magazine. Meanwhile, you can buy a copy and get the author to sign it at Garden District Book Shop April 30th, at Maple Street Book Shop May 14th and at Octavia Books May 21st.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz – Junot’s brilliant. These stories were quick little literary snacks, evocative and powerful and weird. But they ring true, as everything I’ve ever read by him does, and they feel so personal you have to call him “Junot,” as if you know him, like you’ve just had a really long conversation with him.

Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys – I read a bunch of write-ups about this one, especially in Entertainment Weekly, and despite the glowing review, I was thinking it was going to seriously suck. There’s a something about seedy historical New Orleans that intrigues people, so much so that it becomes almost fetishized. But I was pre-judging the book based on two things: the author doesn’t live in New Orleans and the title refers to the city as “the Easy.” The book, in reality, is wonderful. I love that it’s a YA title, but talks frankly about sex and crime in its historical setting. I’m not promoting gratuitous sex and violence in any medium or setting, but I absolutely appreciated that the book doesn’t condescend to its readers or cater to the group of YA-censors who do condescend to teen readers. Sepetys had a story to tell and she told it. Pretty freaking well.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel – A member of my writing group recommended Bechdel’s Fun Home, which is called a tragicomic and blew my mind when I read it last year. So, I was completely on board when I heard she had a new book out, this one a comic drama about her mother and psychotherapy. On paper, Bechdel and I have completely different biographies, yet I felt like she had already written my memoir. If that makes sense. Or, at least, she’d already done the psychology research for my memoir. But perhaps that’s the power of her narrative ability, matched with her visual artist instincts. Her books make you live in them until they are your stories, too.

Requiem, Lauren Oliver – This is the last book in the Delirium series, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Or is it the last book? It really didn’t feel like it. I liked that the book alternated between perspectives, between Lena and Hana, and I liked that we got a bit of Alex’s perspective in a separate short story. But. But, the story did not feel complete when the book was finished. I ran out of text, but I still had so many questions. I don’t need everything resolved and I didn’t even necessarily [SPOILER! STOP! SPOILER!] need the romance to be resolved cleanly, but Oliver has built this world and has given us no idea where it’s going after she stops writing about it. We need another book.

So I know my reviews aren’t strictly reviews in the traditional sense. They’re random thoughts about why I decide to read books and what I think of them after I’ve read them. Sometimes, I’m grumpy when I write them and maybe a bit rude (sorry, Janet Evanovich and Iris Johansen) and sometimes I’m still a little euphoric and obsessed (too many examples to name one). But, I think they say something about the person reading them, where I’m at at a given time or moment and the world around me as I’m reading. I hope you find that interesting. I love talking books, so feel free to share your thoughts too, even–especially–if you disagree with me. I find that interesting.

2 Comments

Filed under books, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading

2012 Q4 Reading Report

I’m not going to hit my annual goal of 100 books in 2012 and while that disappoints me, I am not disappointed in the books I chose to spend my time with this year. I read more nonfiction than ever and I tend to read that more slowly. Keep in mind that I also read much more than what I track in these reading reports – scripts as part of my film jobs, short stories and essays for Narrative, stuff that I am legally and professionally required not to discuss. Additionally, I often read essays and articles, work by Peauxdunque members and other writers. A lot of that undisclosed reading picked up this year, which meant a decline in just-for-pleasure and even for-review reading.

October

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield – This is the book that Mamma Mia! and I listened to on the return leg of The Grandma Road Trip, but didn’t get to finish. I checked out the audio from my library and Mamma Mia! and I set aside some time and both listened to the rest. I was obsessed with this story while we were listening to it, but something about having to wait a while to conclude the story and not being in the same situation (listening to it in the car, mostly at night, with Mamma Mia!) dulled the conclusion for me. Maybe the suspense couldn’t be sustained, either over the break between listens or over the 400+ pages worth of story. Maybe it would’ve felt different if I’d read the book itself over time, or if we’d listened to the whole thing in one go.

Three to Get Deadly and Four to Score, Janet Evanovich – These are silly and fun. I can read two books quickly, be absorbed in the world, and feel a sense of accomplishment. I like that Stephanie Plum has such a distinctive, specific voice.

The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones – I read about this one in Entertainment Weekly and was intrigued. The hostess whose house I stayed at during Isaac was reading it, too, but she wasn’t that impressed. I knew what she meant when I read it. The mystery was compelling, but it was hard to invest in any of the characters.

How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran – This book literally had me busting a gut quite frequently. It’s been a long time since a book has made my stomach hurt from laughing. It was thought-provoking, too. There were many genuine points about womanhood mixed in with the humorous delivery. Sometimes I disagreed and quite frequently, Moran’s feminism contradicted itself, but it was always smart and I was always invested. She has another book called Moranthology, I discovered when I went looking for the link. I’ll probably read that one, too.

November

Wild, Cheryl Strayed – I was not intrigued by the subject matter. It honestly sounded like it’d be the most boring and excruciatingly sad book, simultaneously. However, Entertainment Weekly wouldn’t stop talking about this book, nor would any of the other print or online media sources that I read. And then I read Tiny, Beautiful Things and I knew I had to read it. Even so, I was surprised by how quickly I got sucked in and how completely this book took over my life. I couldn’t think about anything else until I finished. If I can write with a fraction as much honesty and clarity, I will be incredibly pleased with myself.

Hive Five and Hot Six, Janet Evanovich – Have you noticed a trend? I tend to read something immense and/or devastating and then I read two of these books, and then I dive back into something consuming. I like books that know what they are and don’t pretend to be anything different. These are palate-cleansers for me. Light and easy between heavy courses.

The Mapmaker’s War, Ronlyn Domingue – my interview with Ronlyn about this book is forthcoming. The book will be available in March.

Torch, Cheryl Strayed – I doubled down on the heavy courses here. It was fascinating to see how Strayed dealt with the same material in fiction and two different forms of nonfiction. Maybe more than anything else this year, reading these three books was instructive. The novel told a story that was very close to the stories relayed in the nonfiction books, if you’re looking at a bullet-point list of facts. Yet it was so different, the why behind the story and the how of its construction. Somehow, it touched me even more deeply than the nonfiction, though I think I admire the nonfiction more.

December

Reached, Ally Condie – I ate this book, the conclusion of the trilogy begun with Matched, consumed it as fast as I could. I had to know what happened and I barely blinked. If you just read the premise of Matched, you might think it was all hook and no substance, but it wasn’t very far into Matched that I realized I was reading something unique and fierce. The way the characters in this series respond to poetry and art, the way they use it to become themselves, pass messages between each other, and change the world, is a strong argument for literacy and art, why they are entirely vital.

Seven Up and Hard Eight, Janet Evanovich – I took four of these home with me for Christmas, figuring I deserved a nice long dessert after the hardy courses I’ve read this Quarter. There’s some heavy, dense stuff on this list and I wanted to be able to focus on my family and enjoy a nice story. That’s what I got.

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster – I somehow never read this growing up. I don’t know how I missed it. I think it would’ve meant the world to me if I’d read it when I was a kid and I have friends who still respond to it that way. I enjoyed it a lot, marveled at the word craft and the imagination of it. I’d like to read it several more times and I regret I didn’t read it earlier. I checked it out from the library months ago but, and I’m not sure why, it took me forever to pick it up and get into it. Probably because its reputation had preceded it. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to what I’d heard.

To the Nines and Ten Big Ones, Janet Evanovich – These two were particularly good, fast reads. They seem to be getting a bit darker, too.

[12.31 Update:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami – I checked this book out of the library at the beginning of the year and I’ve been renewing it ever since, dipping in on occasion. This is a slim book, an extended meditation, but I’ve been reading it all year long, finding it dense, at times boring, at other times humorous, always enlightening. I read more than half of it yesterday and today, finally ready for it I think. “Still, when I finished,” Murakami says in the afterword, “I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted.” I feel that way too, now that I’ve finished reading it in the last hours of the old year. I’m not a runner and this book illustrated that more than ever. I don’t have the mentality for it, but it was fascinating to get inside a runner’s head for a while, especially one who is also a writer.]

I’ll be picking my favorite books of the year when I post my 2012 Best List later today. On the one hand, I read fewer books this year than I typically do, so that narrows the field and theoretically makes it easier. But on the other hand, because I read fewer books and more nonfiction, I usually lived with the books longer, letting them rattle around inside me. It’s going to be tough.

1 Comment

Filed under books, literature, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading

2012 Q3 Reading Report

As I predicted in my last Quarterly Reading Report, July and August were a bit sparse, but I made significant gains in September. And as always, I read some really amazing books. All but two of the sixteen books I read this quarter were from the library. I did go back and buy two of the books after reading them, because I wanted a copy of my very own.

July

Breadcrumbs, Anne Ursu – This was an odd, sometimes completely amazing, mishmash of other fantastical children’s tales, pulling from fairy tales like Hansel & Gretel, as well as The Chronicles of Narnia. But, these references were homages, touchstones in a tale that was, in part, about the power of stories and imagination.

One for the Money, Janet Evanovich – You’ll be disappointed to know that I was inspired to read the book by the recent movie (once again). I found this first Stephanie Plum tale amusing and entertaining, though completely dated. But, how can it not be considering how much the world has changed since it was originally published in 1994 (that’s 18 years ago!).

August

Two for the Dough, Janet Evanovich – One of the things I like best about reading these books now is seeing simultaneously how absolutely original and completely influential Stephanie Plum has been in this genre. You can see Sookie Stackhouse’s origins in Stephanie Plum, too, even though they live in different genres.

Oyster, John Biguenet – This book devastated me. I began reading it to prepare for my interview with John Biguenet, but finished it out of entirely selfish reading necessity. I was so utterly captured by this book that I had one of those experiences where I felt like I was living in the world of the book and would bump into the characters at any moment. I also felt the unbearable itch to see this book become a movie, most especially with one of the final scenes.

A Million Suns, Beth Revis – This sequel to Across the Universe was a bit slower to start than the first book, but once I was in, I was truly in. It didn’t quite go where I expected it to, which I appreciate. I’m fairly good at predicting plots and twists (both in movies and books), so my hat comes off to a book or movie that can surprise me without making me feel cheated. Can’t wait for the third book, Shades of Earth, which is coming out shortly after m birthday next year.

Out of  Sight, Out of Time, Ally Carter – The latest in Carter’s Gallagher Girl series, which I’ve enjoyed for a while. This one took a bit of an odd turn, elevating the “what I did last summer” essay to new heights, introducing amnesia and a spy adventure after the fact. At first, I wasn’t so sure about this twist in the series, especially since it’s been a little while since I read the last one, but I settled in just fine. I love that Carter writes about teen girls, who also happen to be spies and con artists.

Tiny, Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed – Poor you, if you spent any time with me while I was reading this book. I did not talk (or think!) about anything else as I quickly devoured it and for a while after I finished. Sugar (Strayed) presents a master course on absolute, raw courage in nonfiction, not to mention how to write about yourself without being self-centered. Made me excited to read Wild, though the subject matter hadn’t previously appealed to me.

River Road, Suzanne Johnson – My interview with Johnson will be forthcoming from is in this month’s issue of 225 Magazine. Let me just say, this is what I read during my Hurricane Isaac evacuation.

September

Hot Stuff, Janet Evanovich + Leanne Banks – This is the “fluffy audio book” mentioned in the Leg Three post from the Grandma Road Trip. It truly is fluffy. It did the trick though, which was gave Mums and me something to listen to while driving, engaging enough to listen to, but not complicated enough to distract us from driving.

Naughty Neighbor, Janet Evanovich – This one was begun on Leg Four and finished on Leg Five. I hate to say it, but I kinda wish we’d given this one a pass and moved on sooner to the loooong audio book that I resisted, but which Mums picked out. That one ended up being very engaging and we didn’t get to finish it.

Reunion, Alan Lightman – This one was recommended to me by a writer friend when I told him I’m writing about tango and dance. The funny thing is that though he recommended it to me, in part at least, because it features a dancer, I think I needed to read it for an entirely different reason. Another interesting thing is that this book is of a type that is usually like nails on a chalkboard to me (literary, male character longing for the past and an idealized woman he’s probably invented), yet I loved it. Mysterious. While I didn’t buy Reunion, I did later buy Lightman’s book of essays Dance for Two. It remains to be seen how much the essays will actually be about dance.

The Lover’s Dictionary, David Levithan – One of two books bought at The Book Table in Oak Park during Leg Four of the Grandma Road Trip. It’s small enough to fit into a purse, so I ended up tucking it into mine and reading the whole thing over the next few days. Partly because the book is written in relatively short “dictionary entries,” this is one of those books where you can say, “hey, I have a minute, let me read a page or two” and you end up reading twenty before you know it.

Wife 22, Melanie Gideon – I read a write-up about this one in Entertainment Weekly and was both intrigued and skeptical. I wasn’t sure if it would hold my interest, but I ended up gulping it up in like 24 hours. I’m not surprised that it’s going to be made into a movie. It’s got the best combination of knowing what’s coming and yet you can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Switched, Torn, Ascend, Amanda Hocking – Because I don’t live under a rock and I’m somewhat plugged into the publishing world, I heard about a successful self-published writer selling the rights to her already-released e-books to a traditional publisher for what I think ended up being a $2 million deal. So, I thought I’d give them a try. You can see the self-published thumbprint on this books and not for the stereotypical reason you’d think. They’re compelling and well-edited. Where you can see their origins in self-publishing is a contradiction: there was no gatekeeper to tell Hocking her odd-ball ideas wouldn’t sell (trolls as sexy creatures and heroes? depicted sexual acts and cursing?) and you can clearly see that Hocking was writing the type of story she enjoys reading, so it fits nicely on the shelf next to other “popular paranormal teen books.”

Whew. So many books, so little time! I do my best. Already can’t wait for the fourth quarter report cause I’m reading some great books. Till then…

1 Comment

Filed under freelance work, Friends, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading

The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Five

Leg Five: Chicago to Acworth, 685.8 miles

Monday, September 10th: We met Norm and Trouble for breakfast at Delia’s one more time and said our last round of goodbyes before heading out of Chicago. We passed striking teachers (and/or their supporters) on the overpasses as we exited the city and we honked our support as we went.

After passing through all the toll stations, we settled in to finish our second fluffy Janet Evanovich audio book, then started the looong audio book Mums had chosen, The Thirteenth Tale. It wasn’t long into the story before I realized we weren’t going to finish it together and regretted that we didn’t listen to it first.

I almost wished we were beginning the trip all over again. But, it was long enough as it was.

We tried to stop at a place called The Thirsty Turtle in Indiana for lunch, but it was closed and we ended up at a Steak N’ Shake instead. We fared better with dinner,  at The Oasis Southwest Grill in Kentucky.

And though the audio book was extremely engaging, it seemed like we were in the mountains of Tennesee, sharing the dark road with 18-wheelers, forever. It was pretty tense, probably most of all because we were exhausted.

We made it home pretty late, but I stayed up to do laundry and pack for the last leg of the Grandma Road Trip, then got a few hours of sleep.

2 Comments

Filed under books, family, Friends, musing, The Grandma Road Trip, travel

The Grandma Road Trip – Leg Three

Leg Three: Acworth to Columbus, 536.6 miles

Sunday, September 2nd: Mums and I set off reasonably early. She drove the entire way to Columbus while we listened to a fluffy Janet Evanovich audio book and I played with my new iPhone, which I’d gotten the day before. Considering I live in New Orleans, which is so flat it’s sunk in, I was pretty enamored with the mountains of Tennessee. Case in point (and I took about a hundred of these):

I was looking for postcards along our way to send back home. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find a postcard in Tennessee, especially on the Sunday before Labor Day when all the welcome centers are closed. It turns out that very few gas stations actually carry them anymore, which is kinda sad. I did manage to find some.

We stopped for lunch at Cracker Barrel, where I was amused by the “low carb” options on the menu. Maybe they are prepared pretty healthily, but none of these would occur to me as particularly low carb. Except maybe the trout.

As soon as we got to Columbus, we met my relatives at a Bob Evans. I was a bit exhausted (being out late finally caught up with me) and was feeling kinda cranky, but it was so nice to see them. It’s been a very long time since we’ve all been together. We laughed a lot, especially while my family tortured our extremely  good-natured waiter.

That evening, Grandma S. gave me a book called The Ringling Legacy and it occurred to me that she’s basically been doing research for The Winter Circus since before I was alive. A few years ago, she drove me to Bowling Green to interview Montana Miller, who I later became friends with, and Montana mentioned an old television special she’d been featured in and Grandma S. said, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” I thought she was just making it up, but she and Montana swapped details about the special. She has collected clowns my entire life, which is probably the reason they’re my least favorite part of the circus. But clearly, she has something to do with that seed of circus love that has always existed inside me.

Monday, Septempter 3rd – Wednesday, September 5th: Over the next few days, Mums and I did a lot of fun stuff with our Columbus relatives. We all got slaughtered in miniature golf by Grandma S. We cheered my aunt R.‘s over-40 soccer league game, where her team kicked ass and where, I have to admit, I snorted a bit rudely with a lady complained about the “humidity” on a cool, breezy evening. I *wanted* to say, “Really, lady, if you want to complain about humidity, go visit New Orleans where *any* day is going to be more humid than this pretty, breezy evening in September.” But, that would’ve been even ruder. We helped Grandma S. clean and organize her basement a little, though I wish we could’ve helped more. Three generations of book lovers visited a great, used bookstore in an old church, which was mighty dangerous. But probably my favorite moment is when we all watched So You Think You Can Dance together. Mums, my aunt R. and I are all huge fans and Grandma S. seemed to enjoy herself as well. We were loud and enthusiastic and it was so much fun.

Grandma S gloating over her putt putt victory (just a little).

And as for the home thing that Mums brought up before the second leg of the Grandma Road Trip – Mums grew up in Columbus and I was born there. While we moved to Georgia when I was very little, I do recognize a lot from other visits and there’s something a little primordial about being there. It’s the original home, maybe, even if I haven’t lived there in my own sentient memory. Each leg of this trip so far has been going backwards to an older version of home.

3 Comments

Filed under family, musing, The Grandma Road Trip, travel

Bobbie Faye’s baaaaaaack

The newest Bobbie Faye book, When a Man Loves a Weapon, is out today. While I love the first two books, I think the third one just may be my favorite. 510zfw1aWjL._SL500_AA240_

Here’s the description from Amazon.com:

Living single in her trailer was great for a time. But now Bobbie Faye’s officially engaged to, and has purchased a home with, the hottest FBI agent on the beat: Trevor Cormier. Even though she still has no idea what he really does on the job, Bobbie Faye has never been happier…until Trevor gets called away on an urgent assignment and leaves her in the care of body-guard slash babysitter Riley.

As it turns out, Bobbie Faye could use a little extra security. The man she helped put in behind bars, the murderous Sean MacGreggor, has escaped from prison…and is dead-set on revenge. With still no word from Trevor—who was only supposed to be gone for three days—Bobbie Faye finds herself reluctantly turning to her detective ex-boyfriend Cam for help. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect Bobbie Faye…so long as Trevor stays out of the picture. For good.

If you like Janet Evanovich, Jennifer Crusie and kick-ass Southern women who make you laugh out loud, Bobbie Faye is for you.

Toni’s also pretty funny when she’s blogging, so read her talking about writing love triangles on Book Binge.

4 Comments

Filed under book news, bragging on, Friends