2018 Reading Challenge – The Year of the Woman

It’s time once again to announce my book choices for the coming year. Sometime during this past year I began looking at my TBR pile and noticed a certain disparity. More than half of my books are by men authors. Nearly all of my favorite authors are men. Now there isn’t anything wrong with this necessarily, but I thought I should try reading more women authors.

Consequently, I’ve declared 2018 to be The Year of the Woman. For my reading list then, I’ve deliberately tipped the scale in the other direction and chosen books only by women. I may or may not be able to keep to this plan, however, as many of the books I’ve been anxious to read aren’t by women.

For my 2018 reading list, I decided to go with the 2018 Popsugar Reading Challenge. I’ve run across this challenge before, but never felt I was capable of taking on a challenge of this size. Fifty books is a lot to commit to. It’s more than I ever thought I could possibly read in a year, nearly double what I set out to read in 2017.

Here then, is my 2018 Reading Challenge list:

A book made into a movie you’ve already seen – How to Train Your Dragon, by Cressida Cowell
True crime – The Stranger Beside Me: Ted Bundy The Shocking Inside Story, by Ann Rule
The next book in a series you started – City of Glass, by Cassandra Clare
A book involving a heist – Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo
Nordic noir – Sun Storm, by Åsa Larsson
A novel based on a real person – Maplecroft, by Cherie Priest
A book set in a country that fascinates you – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell, by Susanna Clarke
A book with a time of day in the title – The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh
A book about a villain or antihero – Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
A book about death or grief – The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard
A book with a female author who uses a male pseudonym – Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, by James Tiptree, Jr.
A book with a LGBTQ+ protagonist – The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A book that is also a stage play or musical – The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
A book by an author of a different ethnicity than you – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou or The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler
A book about feminism – Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay
A book about mental health – The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
A book you borrowed or was given to you as a gift – City of Lost Souls, by Cassandra Clare
A book by two authors – Havemercy, by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett
A book about or involving a sport – Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand
A book by a local author – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin
A book with your favorite color in the title – Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
A book with alliteration in the title – Wings of Wrath, by C. S. Friedman
A book about time travel – The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
A book with a weather element in the title – Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
A book set at sea – Circle of Bones, by Christine Kling
A book with an animal in the title – Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
A book set on a different planet – Valor’s Choice, by Tanya Huff
A book with song lyrics in the title – Starcrossed, by Josephine Angelini
A book about or set on Halloween – Haunted Castle on Hallow’s Eve, by Mary Pope Osborn
A book with characters who are twins – Anne of Avonlea, by L. M. Montgomery
A book mentioned in another book – To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
A book from a celebrity book club – Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts
A childhood classic you’ve never read – Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, by Judy Blume
A book that’s published in 2018 – Sightwitch, by Susan Dennard
A past Goodreads Choice Awards winner – City of Fallen Angels, by Cassandra Clare
A book set in the decade you were born – Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
A book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to – Boys Should Be Boys, by Dr. Meg Meeker
A book with an ugly cover – Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
A book that involves a bookstore or library – Voices, by Ursula K. LeGuin
Favorite prompt from Popsugar 2015, 2016 or 2017 challenge: a book based on a fairytale – Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles, by J. M. Sullivan
A bestseller from the year you graduated high school – The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
A cyberpunk book – Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
A book that was being read by a stranger in a public place – City of Heavenly Fire, by Cassandra Clare, or Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor
A book tied to your ancestry – House of Day, House of Night, by Olga Tokarczuk
A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title – Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg
An allegory – The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz
A book by an author with the same first or last name as you – Grace and Fury, by Tracy Banghart
A microhistory – Breaking Into the Current, by Louise Teal
A book about a problem facing society today – This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
A book recommended by someone else taking the Popsugar Reading Challenge – The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The Year of the Woman – Book Recommendations Wanted!

For my 2017 Reading Challenge, I chose to focus on book series. My core list included books from seventeen different series. It’s been an incredibly fun year so far, reading books by favorite authors, as well as discovering new authors. My favorite new discovery this year is probably Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.

Though the year isn’t over yet, and I have a few books on my list still to read, I’ve begun looking ahead to 2018. In looking at the books I’ve read over the last few years, and the books currently waiting my my TBR list, I can’t help but notice a preponderance of male authors.

Now, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with this. Most of my favorite authors are men – Tad Williams, Brandon Sanderson, J. R. R. Tolkien, and many others. But my reading list feels a little one sided, and I’d like it to be more balanced.

Therefore, I’ve decided that my focus for 2018 will be on women authors. There are women writers I’ve never read, but feel like I should have – such as classic fantasy writers like Anne McCaffrey and Ursula K. Leguin. And there are books that have been on my list for way too long like The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.

My hope is that I can broaden my reading experience and discover some amazing writers along the way. So along with focusing on women writers, I want to include books from various genres, writers from all walks of life, and as much diversity as I can pack into the year.

Here’s where I need your help. I have a huge stack of books on my shelf already to choose from, but most of these fall into one of two of my favorite genres – fantasy or suspense. There’s also a good representation of young adult fiction. What’s missing more than anything else are the non-fiction categories such as poetry, biography and essays. I’d also like to find more independent/self-published writers.

So I’m looking for recommendations. Particularly in non-fiction genres as well as translations into English. Who are your favorite women writers? Who should I consider adding to my reading list next year? Please, let me know!

2017 Reading Challenge, Reprise

When I didn’t find a fun reading challenge list like I used last year, I finally went ahead and built my own list. I was quite content with it, and really, I still am. But then, I ran across this 26/52-book 2017 Reading Challenge, and it just looked like too much fun. Especially when I realized all seventeen books on my original list fit very neatly into this one.

I confess, I took the entire list of 52 and arranged it to my own liking, choosing which categories I liked best, and narrowing it back down to 26, rounding out the original seventeen books to fill in the gaps. I added in some books I’m already working on, or have queued up to read. After all, if I’m going to push myself to read more, I might as well really make it interesting.

And so, without further ado, here is my new and improved reading list. (Books marked with a * were not included on my original reading challenge list.)

1. A book from your childhood – Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis
Book two of the Chronicles of Narnia, this is a continuation of a series I began reading last year. I started reading the Narnia books when I was younger, but never moved past the first book. I’ve enjoyed reading this one with my boys. (Find my review of this book here.)

2. A book published last year – The Aeronaut’s Windlass, by Jim Butcher
Okay, released September 29, 2015, it doesn’t quite qualify, but I’ll go with it anyway. This book came recommended to me by a Twitter friend when I asked for a place to start reading steampunk, a sub-genre I’ve been curious about. I’ve heard good things about Jim Butcher already, having learned about him and his other book series from my book club group. (Read my review of this book here.)

3. A non-fiction book – *The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay
I’ve been thinking it’s time I put my history degree to work and do a little research. I’ve been curious to read these and other writings from the early period of American politics. I don’t know if I’ll actually get to this one this year, but I would like to try. (You can read my comments on this book here.)

4. A book that became a movie – The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
I first became intrigued by this series of books when I saw the first movie. When I found out it was based on a book, I immediately wanted to read them. Still, it took some time before I finally picked up the books and added them to my TBR pile. (Here is my review of this book.)

5. A book published in the 20th century – Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin
There weren’t many books on my list written before 2000, and though not the oldest one, it is one of the few. This first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series, published in 1996, has become the basis of a very popular television series, though I haven’t watched it. I don’t typically like to start reading a series before it is completed, but perhaps it is a bit of morbid curiosity that finally led me to check this one out. (Read my review here.)

6. A book set in your hometown/region – *Dies the Fire, by S. M. Stirling
When I ran across this category on the reading list, I went looking for a book set in Oregon. I found this one and remembered this is another book I first heard about through my book club. So, even though I really don’t need to add another series to my list, I made an exception for this one. (Here is my review of this book.)

7. A book with a number in the title – I Am Number Four, by James Frey
This one was easy, the only one already on my list that fit the category. (Find my review of this book here.)

8. A book someone else recommended to you – City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare
As I mentioned in my last post, my sister strongly suggested this series to me. She took me to see the movie when it came out, and I enjoyed that. I’ve been looking forward to reading this one for awhile. (Here is my review of City of Bones.)

9. A book with over 500 pages – Shadowmarch, by Tad Williams
Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors, so picking up another series of his was easy. This isn’t the only long book on my list this year, fantasy novels have a tendency to be long. I like them that way! (Read my review of this book here.)

10. A book you can finish in a day – *A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle
This is another book on my fantasy book “must read” list. When I found it on my nephew’s bookshelf, he kindly allowed me to borrow it. Can I read it in a day? I guess I’ll find out. (You can find my review of this book here.)

11. A previously banned book – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling
This is the only series on my list that I have read before. Since it was first published, the Harry Potter series has been controversial in school libraries. In fact, the series made the top ten most frequently challenged books from 2001-2003. I’m not afraid of a little controversy. (Read my review of this book here.)

12. A book with a one word title – Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
I’ve been eager to read this series by Brandon Sanderson since I finished reading the Wheel of Time books early last year. He did a great job finishing a series I really loved, and I can’t wait to see what he’s created for himself. (Here is my review of this book.)

13. A book translated from another language – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
This series, written by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, wasn’t published until after his death. Of all the books on my list this year, this one might be the most unique, a crime novel rather than fantasy, and certainly not YA. (Find my review of this book here.)

14. A book that will improve a specific area of your life – *Boys Should Be Boys, by Meg Meeker
I’m a mother of three boys. I can use all the help I can get in raising decent kids. This book is subtitled 7 Secrets to Raising Healthy Sons. There’s little I want as much as for my boys to be happy, healthy, normal boys. If I can learn something from this book, I will be grateful. (Find my review of this book here.)

15. A play – *The Tempest, by William Shakespeare
I discovered audio books last year, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. So far, I’ve chosen to listen to classic books I might not otherwise pick up. My latest pick includes a selection of famous plays including this one by Shakespeare. (Here is my review of this play.)

16. A book of short stories – *H. G. Wells, Collector’s Book of Science Fiction, by H. G. Wells
This one might be a bit of a cheat. Technically, this is part of last year’s reading challenge, but since I haven’t finished reading it yet, and it is a collection of short stories, I figured why not include it here again. (Find my review of this collection here.)

17. A trilogy or series – The Selection, by Kiera Cass
I’ve already declared 2017 as the “Year of the Series.” Therefore, filling this category was merely a matter of which series to list here. Turns out, it was an easy “selection.” (Here is my review of this series.)

18. A bestseller – The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
Last year, The Name of the Wind was on my reading list. I quickly came to appreciate why this series of books has received such high acclaim. I have been looking forward to reading this second book of the series, and I’m not at all surprised it has achieved bestseller status. The only reason I haven’t already read this one is that book three hasn’t been released yet, and I don’t look forward to waiting for the conclusion. (Find my review here.)

19. A book you own but haven’t read yet – The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan
I’m ashamed to admit that I could almost close my eyes and grab any book off my shelf and it would fit into this category. However, since I already had several chosen to read this year, my choices were a little narrower. I’ve been eager to read this one, hoping it would be one I could interest my boys in reading with me. (Read my review of this book here.)

20. An epic poem – *Beowulf, translated by C. W. Kennedy
I decided I needed to read this one because I’m writing a novel about a bard. Epic poetry is the realm of a bard, and familiarizing myself with the form would be useful. I decided to listen to it instead, so right now, this is what I’m listening to during my commute to work. (You can find my review of Beowulf here.)

21. A book of poetry – *Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein
I found this book at a used bookstore and picked it up for my boys for Christmas. We’ve started reading it, but so far, I think I might be enjoying it more than they are. (Read my review here.)

22. A book with a color in the title – Red Rising, by Pierce Brown
I think I discovered this book through Twitter, or more likely, a newsletter from the publisher I learned about via Twitter. I was intrigued immediately, and I can’t wait to read it. (You can read my review of this book here.)

23. A book with an appealing cover – Windwitch, by Susan Dennard
I was first drawn to this series last year when I found the first book, Truthwitch, on Twitter. The cover drew me to it instantly, and I decided I had to read it. I did, loved it, and now, I’m excited to read the second book which also has a beautiful cover. As well as an intriguing premise. (Find my review of Windwitch here.)

24. A self-published book – *Necromancer Falling, by Nat Russo
This is yet one more book I discovered through Twitter. I read the first book, Necromancer Awakening and was intrigued by the idea. After a slowish start, I really enjoyed this book, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one. (My review of this book can be found here.)

25. A book by an author you haven’t read before – Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas
The Twitter marketing scheme seems to be working, at least on me. This is another book I’m sure I first encountered through Twitter. The books are beautiful and intriguing, and look to be exactly the kind of book I love. But I better start with book one, so here goes. (Find my review of this book here.)

26. A book set in a country you’ve never been to – The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
I was a little hard pressed to find a book that fit this category. Most of the books on my list are fantasy novels set in their own fantasy realm. Another is set on another planet! Of those that are set on Earth, most take place in the United States. This one, however, is apparently set, at least in part, in England, a place I’d love to go, but have never been. (Read my review here.)

 

I didn’t intend to write a second reading challenge post for 2017. I didn’t intend to try and read quite this many books. But you’ve got to admit, this list is a whole lot more interesting than my original list. I still plan to focus first on my “rainbow” of books lined out in the original post. The other books I’ll read (listen to!) as I can, and hope for the best. Now if only I didn’t need the day job, and could get paid to read books…

2017 Reading Challenge: The Year of the Series

I began this blog with a list of books I had chosen to read in response to a reading challenge that gave me twelve categories to fill with a book to read. Thus, it seems the appropriate thing to do to begin my second year of blogging with a similar post. It’s a new year, and I’ve put together a new list of books I intend to read in the coming months. If things go at all the way they did in 2016, this will not be all that I read. My goal is to read even more than I did in 2016.

Finding this 2016 Reading Challenge was a brilliant stroke of luck at just the moment I was trying to start this blog. It gave me something to focus on for an entire year, so I always had a least something I would be able to write about as I tried to determine my place in the blogging world. It also gave me the chance to practice writing book reviews, and to learn to think critically about what I was reading.

The list also provided a challenge for me, making me stretch my reading abilities and push myself to read even more. While to many readers, a mere twelve books in a year would be nothing at all, but for myself, having read only eleven books in 2015, this felt like a good goal to pursue. And, as it turns out, twelve books was only the beginning of what I would read in 2016. I did, in fact, double that goal, reading twenty-five books.

I ended up reading some interesting, and often surprising books. Most of the books I chose for the Challenge came off my already impossibly long “to be read someday” list of books. So in that respect I accomplished something I might not otherwise have done.

As 2016 wound to an end, I began looking for a new reading challenge list for 2017. I didn’t run across one that I thought would work for me, at least not in the same way the list for 2016 did. So instead, I looked at my book shelves and I began pulling out books I’ve been collecting for too long unread. It turns out, a large number of my books are a part of a series, and so, I have declared 2017 to be the year of the series. I have chosen seventeen books that I’ve been meaning to read, or in one case, reread. All of which, are part of a series of at least three books.

A couple are by authors I’ve read before, Tad Williams and Brandon Sanderson. Three are a continuation of books I read in 2016, C. S. Lewis, Susan Dennard and Patrick Rothfuss. I decided to reread the Harry Potter series after binge watching the movies. And the others are books that in one way or another drew my attention and sparked my curiosity whether by their popularity, good reviews, by the movies that were made from them, or by some other means.

Having narrowed my choices down to seventeen books, I now had the dilemma of what order to put them in. I want to read all of them. Now. But, since I have to start somewhere, I sought input from my sister. She suggested I start with the Shadowhunter series by Cassandra Clare, as it’s one of her current favorites.

So, beginning with City of Bones, I put the books on my shelf in a sort of rainbow order, for lack of any other order that made any sense. The colors aren’t quite right to make a true rainbow (see the photo above), but it’s close enough. Here’s what I came up with:

City of Bones – Cassandra Clare
Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin
Red Rising – Pierce Brown
I Am Number Four – Pitticus Lore
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson
The Aeronaut’s Windlass – Jim Butcher
The Maze Runner – James Dashner
The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan
The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
The Selection – Kiera Cass
Shadowmarch – Tad Williams
Prince Caspian – C. S. Lewis
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – J. K. Rowling
Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas
Windwitch – Susan Dennard
Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss

The real challenge for me in reading through this list, will be not getting caught up in the series. I can see myself not wanting to stop with just the one book, but needing to finish the entire series before moving on. In some cases that will be impossible as the series isn’t finished yet. But it will be interesting to see which ones I can set aside after one book, and which ones will demand I read everything available.

This then, is my reading list for 2017. Seventeen books. All part of a larger series. Five by women authors, twelve by men. Most were published since 2005, a little more than half of them in the last ten years. It’s an ambitious list, as it in essence contains upwards of sixty books.

At first glance there doesn’t seem to be a lot of variety in the choices I’ve made. Most of the books are in the fantasy genre, and more specifically, young adult fantasy. Still, a list that contains authors such as C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling and George R. R. Martin certainly won’t be boring. I’m excited to get started on this list. And I can’t wait to see what surprises come my way as the year progresses.

With that, let me say, Happy New Year! Happy 2017! Happy reading!

Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott: a Review

I chose to read this book for my 2016 Reading Challenge as one I’d previously abandoned. When I came to this category in the challenge, I was hard pressed to come up with something that qualified. I can recall only one time that I actually gave up on a book without finishing it, and that was so long ago I can recall neither the name of the author nor the title of the book. I’m not even sure what sort of book it was.

Ivanhoe, however, I gave up on before I ever began reading it in the first place. Back when I was in high school, I tried to earn a little extra credit in my English class. I was going to read Ivanhoe and write a paper on it. I never did. So, as the closest thing to an abandoned book that I could come up with, Ivanhoe made it onto my challenge list.

Published in 1820, the style of Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, is clearly not modern. Getting started on this book was difficult to say the least. Particularly beginning with the Introduction and the Dedicatory Epistle in which Scott laboriously declares his qualifications to write this book. Unless you’re into the historical or cultural study of the author and his works, I suggest skipping those parts.

Though it was difficult getting started, the story does eventually pick up. It is the story of King Richard, the Lion-Hearted, Robin Hood and his merry band and all the chivalrous, knighthood culture of twelfth century England. Lots of jousting, beautiful maidens, kidnapping, love, greed and religious angst.

Scott wrote from an omniscient point of view, a technique not often used any more, but popular in his time. Within this framework, Scott takes something of a god-like perspective over the story and characters. He frequently takes liberties with the time line, shifting backward and forward through time in order to catch up characters with the rest of the story. This is at times distracting, as is the author’s frequent intrusions into the narrative to directly address the reader. Scott takes great pride in his historical research and often inserts far more detail than is perhaps necessary to advance the story. And then deliberately draws the reader’s attention to those details.

The story finishes with a tidy closing of the circle first opened at the beginning of the book. The title character Ivanhoe finishes in a jousting duel with another knight who at the beginning arrogantly challenges Ivanhoe. The duel itself, however, is a bit disappointingly understated, ending in something of a “deus ex machina” sort of device.

According to britanica.com, Sir Walter Scott “is often considered both the inventor and the greatest practitioner of the historical novel.” He wrote many such novels, most exploring the history of his native Scotland. He was also a poet, historian and biographer. Ivanhoe remains Scott’s most popular book.

Overall, I found the book interesting. Will I read more of his work? Probably not. But I’m glad I took the time to read this one.

The Great Literary Mash-up

Since the beginning of September, I’ve been participating in the Twitter #hashtag game, WIPjoy. Hosted by @simmeringmind, there is a prompt for each day encouraging writers to share about their current work in progress.

WIPjoy_Sept2016

Today’s prompt is this: If you could choose any other book to mash-up with your own, which would it be? I never intended to write an entire blog post on this subject, but in trying to come up with an answer, that’s just exactly what happened.

I’ve honestly never given any thought to this idea – that of mashing up the world I’ve created in my novel with the world created by someone else. I’ve never considered writing fan fiction either. Those worlds, no matter how much I’ve fallen in love with them, belong to someone else.

The more I thought about this question, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that my work is already a mash-up of sorts of everything I’ve ever read, seen or experienced.

I’ve been a reader from a very young age. Some early influences I can remember include the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mystery series. Anything by Roald Dahl or Beverly Cleary. I loved Charlotte’s Web, the Black Stallion books and Where the Red Fern Grows.

At one point I went through a romance phase and I read every Harlequin or similar title I could get my hands on. The particulars of the story didn’t matter – cowboys, cops, surf stars – I read all of them. I read the sweet romances, the intrigue stories, even the “spicy” ones!

I don’t remember for sure when I read my first fantasy novel, but I’m pretty sure it was J. R. R. Tolkein. I was hooked in an instant. Tolkein was quickly followed by others: Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Stephen R. Donaldson, Tad Williams.

There’s been more influences, of course. Suspense and thrillers like John Grisham, Tami Hoag, James Patterson, Janet Evanovich. And classics such as Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Homer, George Orwell, Mark Twain.

All of these and more have become “mashed up” together in my imagination. This is where my own stories come from.

I can’t deny that the greatest influence has been my background in Christian faith – an influence that began even before my birth. I grew up going to church, reading the Bible and so on. The stories of Noah’s Ark, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Balaam’s Donkey, the miracles of Jesus. These stories formed the foundation of my imagination.

What then would I “mash up” with my own current novel in progress? I can’t choose just one. I’d have to go with the rich, world-building details of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, the exciting suspense of Tami Hoag, the beautiful language of Shakespeare and the simple, outright fun of Janet Evanovich.

And yes, I’ll own my faith too. This is who I am, and I write from this worldview. A worldview that is built on the foundation of faith and that expands with each new book, each new experience. I won’t pretend it’s a complete or perfect worldview. That’s why I keep reading. And writing.

Stop That Girl, by Elizabeth McKenzie: A Review

Book #10 on the 2016 Reading Challenge is Stop That Girl, by Elizabeth McKenzie, a book I own but have never read. This is true of many books on my shelf as I have a bad habit of buying more books even when I have so many still to read. I’ll get to them all eventually, I swear!

I bought this book several years ago following a writer’s conference at which Ms McKenzie was a presenter. The conference opened with an Author’s Night where each of the presenters had an opportunity to offer a reading from one of their works. Ms McKenzie read a passage from Stop That Girl. I was delighted and intrigued. I bought a copy.

This book is the story of Ann Ransom and it opens when she is a girl of about eight. Each chapter is a self-contained moment in Ann’s life, a single episode. Written in the first person, we get to be witnesses to Ann’s life from childhood to adulthood, through the remarriage of her mother, the birth of a half-sister and encounters with a grandmother who might be crazy.

Published in 2005, Stop That Girl is McKenzie’s debut novel. It’s bright and funny, and it demonstrates family dysfunction at its finest. It was a delight to read. McKenzie is the author of two more books plus multiple works of short fiction published by The New Yorker, the Pushcart Prize anthology and more. Find out more about Elizabeth McKenzie at her website, stopthatgirl.com.

A Rare Day

This morning I got to wake up without the aid of an alarm clock or kids. The children finally know that they’ll have to ask their daddy for help with the Xbox – mommy has remained deliberately ignorant of this technology.

I spent a good hour reading various blogs. It was nice to catch up on some of this reading I don’t always have the time to do on a week day. In my short experience in the blogging world, I’ve come across some great writers and I wish I had more time to spend reading.

Then, I got to sit down with a cup of coffee and actually consume the entire thing without interruption before it went cold. This is a rare treat, and I took full advantage. I read my book and very nearly finished it.

My big errand for the day was taking my youngest son to pick out his backpack. He starts preschool this week. He was pretty excited about the backpack and wanted to put it on right away.

To finish my day, I joined some fellow writers for our twice-monthly writing group. We meet at a coffee shop and just write. We’re working on various projects from personal blogs to novels of nearly all genres. It’s a great, productive atmosphere where I can usually accomplish a fairly decent amount of work.

This was a good day. A rare day in which I was able to be quite lazy. A chance to recharge and take a step back from all the daily responsibilities of being a mom. I may regret it tomorrow when I have to do all the laundry I didn’t do today, but for now, I will enjoy the moment.

Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut: a Review

Book #8 in the 2016 Reading Challenge is a book that was banned at some point. For this, I chose to read Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. I wondered why this book had been banned, so I tried to find out. Among the reasons, I found it was due to profanity, explicit sexual references and violent imagery. It has been banned and challenged many times in the years since it’s publication in 1969.

To be honest, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed this book. I had a difficult time getting started on it, and even by the time I was halfway through, I still felt like I was reading an assignment.

Written during the Vietnam war, this is very much an anti-war statement. It is intentionally vulgar and offensive. Vonnegut’s dark humor is put to full effect. He uses some shocking and sometimes poignant imagery in order to convey his message. And I might say, quite effectively.

There was one image in particular I found rather stunning. The book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has become “unstuck in time” and in this scene, he is watching a war movie, but in reverse. American bombers take off backwards from England and return over Germany while German fighters suck bullets and shrapnel from the bombers. Over the bombed German city, the flames are sucked in and tucked neatly back into the bombs which then return to the planes. It concludes…

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so that they would never hurt anybody again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn’t in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

It’s a beautiful image, one that will likely stay with me a long time. If only it were that easy to pack up war and put it away for good.

Would I recommend this book? Though I didn’t particularly enjoy it, this book includes some striking images. If you are not put off by the vulgarity and explicit language, it has its moments. So, yes, go ahead and read it. Be offended even. But dare to look beyond the offensive language and see what was so offensive to Vonnegut in the first place that he had to write this book: war.

September, Tent Forts & Pumpkin Cheesecake: New Season, New Goals

I can’t believe it’s September already. Just two weeks ago, we had triple digit temperatures, but now, we have gray skies, rain showers and a bit of a chill in the air. It was downright shivery at work today as the air conditioning must still be in summer mode.

Yes, September has arrived. The leaves are turning and falling. The first day of school is only a week away. My children are sleeping in a make-shift tent on the floor in the living room tonight. And I am staying up late baking a pumpkin cheesecake. Indeed, summer is on her way out.

It’s a new season, it must be time for some new goals. I started this blog back in January without any real clue as to what I hoped to accomplish with it. I intended that it would be a place where I could share my words with others and push myself to do more with my writing. I think I’ve made a good start, but I still don’t really know what this blog should be about.

Writing…

I’ve been sharing my experiences as I work through my writing projects. This has been a bit of a wild ride for me. Exciting, but a little intimidating. In April, I shared some background and research bits on my middle grade novel in progress, The Curse of the Anne Venture. Introducing my three main characters, Mike, Tommy and Elijah was particularly fun.

Then, in July, I began working on fantasy short stories from the world of another novel in progress. I decided I would publish one here on my blog, and asked you to help me decide which one that would be. The process of writing, rewriting, revising and polishing a story for publication has proven to be different than I anticipated. Thus, I am behind on this project. I had hoped to publish the completed story, “Shattered”, on September 3. While I’ve had to rethink this schedule, I still intend to publish this story on the blog. But first, I want to make it the best story possible.

My writing goals this month then are first, to finish the story “Shattered” and have it ready for publication by the end of September. Second, I intend to continue with the book reviews, ideally, one per week. And last, I will continue with the personal essays in response to the WordPress daily prompt as well as any others that might come up.

Reading…

When started this blog I intended to also write book reviews. This is something I’ve never really done before, so it’s been a learning experience. I’m enjoying it more with each book. Participating in the 2016 Reading Challenge has pushed me to expand my reading experiences.

I’ve fallen a little bit behind with this challenge, however so one goal of mine is to catch up on my reading during the month of September. With November (National Novel Writing Month) coming quickly, I’d prefer to get ahead even. But two of the biggest books on the list are still to be read.

Ideally, I will be able to finish at least three books from this list. Currently I’m working on Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut, and next up will be Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, followed by Stop That Girl, by Elizabeth McKenzie.

…and Life in General

As I work on expanding the reach of my blog, I decided to try responding to the WordPress daily prompt. A one-word prompt meant only to stimulate ideas, wherever that might take you. I wrote about more random subjects this past month than I would have thought possible.

While I’m enjoying this activity, and my posts seem to be well received, I’m not convinced this is the direction I want to go with my blog. I’ll keep at it for now. I’d like to see how things take shape over the course of the next few months.

My goal then, is to continue to respond to the daily prompts as I’m inspired. When I started this, I didn’t think I could ever find time to write something every day. I’m not there yet, and I don’t intend to push myself that hard. At least for now. I’d like to see at least one post a week, however, and I think that’s very doable!

 

These are my goals for September. It will be a stretch to accomplish all that I want to do, but they are not unreasonable. And there can be no growth without a bit of stretching. It’s a new season, a new start.

What are your goals this fall? Thanks for reading!