Category Archives: Thoughts About Books

Bookweek 2019 Day 5: The Ultimate Book Tag

woman lying on area rug reading books

Photo by Renato Abati on Pexels.com

Yesterday, when I sat down to write the fifth and final Bookweek 2019 post, I realized that all my remaining Bookweek ideas were rather negative. The worst book I read this year. Boring main characters. A rant about book snobs. Etc. And I just didn’t want to end Bookweek on a negative note. So I scrapped what I had, and went to bed, and decided I’d write the last blog post today (Saturday) instead.

Well, today I hosted a tea party. And now I’m tired. So I have no energy left to come up with a fun creative way to end bookweek.

I know what I’ll do! I’ll use good old Aunt Google, and find a book-related tag to fill out.

Hmm, looks like I’m going to steal “The Ultimate Book Tag” from a blogger named “The Bibliophile Girl.” Let’s answer some random book-related questions!

Do You Get Sick While Reading In The Car?

Only if it’s a sunny day and we’re driving through town or something, with lots of starts and stops.

Which Author’s Writing Style Is Completely Unique To You And Why?

(Okay, my editor brain is not appreciating the way that question is phrased, but whatevs.) J.D. Salinger has a unique writing style, but the only book of his that I loved was Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. Daniel Handler has a unique writing style, and I absolutely adore his A Series of Unfortunate Events books. However I read some stuff he’d written for adults, and it was too weird for me.

That’s the problem with unique writers. Very often their stuff turns weird. Dark. Overly sexual. Etc. Take Wuthering Heights, for instance. Emily Brontë is brilliant, with a completely unique writing style. I was amazed when I read her work. But can one really like her book?

Harry Potter or Twilight? Give 3 Reasons Why.

To be honest, I didn’t like (or finish) either series. Harry Potter was FULL of plot holes that drove me nuts. Also it got progressively darker as the series wore on. Twilight was interesting for the first few chapters, but the love story was so weird/creepy/obsessive I literally threw the book in the trash. Haha.

Do You Carry A Book Bag? If So, What’s In It (Besides Books)?

A book bag is just a backpack, right? Yes I carry one, but rarely are there books inside, lest I get distracted when I’m supposed to be working.

Things I always carry: My laptop, my laptop cord, at least one pen, my planner, my earbuds, my wallet, my phone, keys

Things I often carry: Snacks, a notebook, my phone charger, a mug

Things I sometimes carry: Spare clothes, books

Do You Smell Your Books?

Only when they have a particularly pungent smell. Certain cheap paperbacks have a very specific odor, and every time I smell it I’m transported to Bag End. The Hobbit was the first book of that smell that I ever read, you see.

I remember getting a new Algebra 1/2 textbook when I was a kid, and loving how it smelled. The smell faded after a while, but I’d still flip to unused pages, stick my nose in close to the spine, and breathe in a big whiff.

Books With or Without Illustrations?

With! I was just talking to Amy about this the other day. Why have publishers, for the most part, stopped illustrating books? Illustrations are so charming! I love stumbling across them in books.

What Book Did You Love While Reading, But Discovered Later It Wasn’t Quality Writing?

For me it’s more of an author than a specific book. Gail Carson Levine. She was my absolute favorite author in my teens. Especially her book Ella Enchanted.

I bought pretty much everything she wrote, back then. But in 2014 I re-read one of her books, Fairest, and discovered that it didn’t retain its charm in adulthood. This was very disappointing to me.

I still think Ella Enchanted is a good book, though. Levine did well when she was sticking to such a simple premise–Cinderella with a twist. She tried to get more complicated in some of her later books, and she just couldn’t quite pull it off.

Do You Have Any Funny Stories Involving Books From Your Childhood?

Once I was in the garden, and I saw a bee. The bee and I had a bit of a scuffle in which the bee stung my hand, and I swatted at the bee. And somehow, in all the chaos, the bee ended up stuck in my hair.

Yes. Stuck. Not, like, in my braid or something, but against my scalp. I could feel it buzzing in there, still alive but unable to escape.

So I went into the house. “There’s a bee in my hair!” I said.

Matt grabbed a book. “Sorry,” he said, and he hit me over the head with the book.

The bee stopped buzzing. It was good and dead.

“You might want to go wash your hair now,” said Matt.

(Whenever I tell this story, people always ask if it hurt when Matt hit me with the book. I guess he somehow knew how to hit hard enough to kill bees, but not hard enough to hurt people. Because I don’t remember it hurting. I just remember being relieved that I wasn’t going to get another bee sting, on the top of my head this time.)

What Is The Thinnest Book On Your Shelf?

Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnim.

What Is the Thickest Book On Your Shelf?

An enormous copy of the Bible that belonged to my great-grandfather.

Do You Write As Well As Read? Do You See Yourself Being An Author In the Future?

Yes, and yes!

When Did You Get Into Reading?

Good question. I was definitely a “late bloomer” when it came to reading. Learning to read was a struggle. I probably wouldn’t have described myself as “into reading” until my teens.

What Is Your Favorite Classic Book?

Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie. Also just my favorite book in general. As far as grown-up books go, I haven’t thought this through very carefully. But the one that immediately came to mind was Emma, by Jane Austen.

Although to be honest, I’m not 100% sure what counts as “classic.” Will any book do, so long as it’s 50+ years old, and popular enough to be re-printed in modern times? Or must it be something most people are familiar with?

What Was Your Best Subject In School?

Not sure what this has to do with books, but okay. I took a JavaScript class once in college, and got the highest grade it was possible to get in the class. Like, 100% plus extra credit. Super random. I never took another computer science class. But I’m weirdly proud of that grade, esp because I was so confused on the first day of class that I cried. It was really embarrassing because this awkward boy tried to comfort me but he didn’t really know how to deal with crying girls, and personally, I just wanted everyone to ignore me and pretend that I wasn’t crying.

If You Were Given A Book As A Present That You Read Before And Hated, What Would You Do?

I would genuinely thank the person for the gift, because at least they’re buying me books. I think it’s really sweet when people buy me books. It shows they care about getting me a personal gift.

If the book was pretty, I might keep it around. But most likely I’d pass it on to someone who would enjoy it, or give it to a thrift store. Marie Kondo and all that. (Unless the book was Twilight in which case it would go into the trash can, haha.)

What Is Your Favorite Word?

If I’m going to be honest, my favorite word probably is “interesting.” I use it all the time, but that’s because I genuinely find what people say to be so interesting. I show love by being interested in what people say, and I feel loved when people are interested in what I have to say.

Also, I love how people pronounce it all sorts of different ways. Some say “in-tris-ting,” some say “in-ter-rest-ting,” and some say “in-ner-rest-ting.” I used to write in my diary that people had “inner sting” if I thought they were especially interesting. But I love how the word can also sound like “inner resting…” because if I am learning something especially interesting, it does feel like part of me, inside, is at home at at rest.

(I know some people use this word as code for “weird,” but I just feel sorry for those people and their boring lives, haha)

That’s all for now. I’d answer the rest of the questions, but…um….just check them out, will you?

What Is A Lesser Known Series That You Know Of That Is Similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?
What Is A Bad Habit You Always Do (Besides Rambling) While Filming?
Are You A Nerd, Dork, or Dweeb?
Vampires of Fairies? Why?
Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?
Spirits or Werewolves? Why?
Zombies or Vampires? Why?
Love Triangles or Forbidden Love?
Full on Romance Books Or Action-Packed With A Few Love Scenes?

Yeah…these questions aren’t really my style. I should just stop.

See you next year, for Bookweek 2020! And don’t forget that book recommendations are always welcome in my comments section. 🙂

Bookweek 2019 Day 4: The Most Charming Book Trope

A few months ago I started compiling a list of books that I thought were absolutely charming. Books that just straight-up made me feel happy and delighted with life whenever I read them. But as I looked over my list, I realized they all had the same basic plot.

They were all about women, older than your typical heroine, who in one way or another had tough, somewhat dismal lives. They never got married, or else they did get married and their husband was not all that they expected him to be. Their relatives took advantage of them. They never reached financial stability.

Then something changed. They were told they were going to die. Or they wrote a book about their neighbors, and it became a bestseller. Or they decided to spend a month in Italy. Or they bought a bookseller’s cart and left their miserable existence behind forever.

And suddenly, their lives were fun and interesting and everything they could have wanted.

The first book of this type that I read was, of course, The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. And this is still my favorite of the whole list.

Image result for The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

Then, my friend Janessa recommended that I read Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. And my friend Esta, when she heard me compiling this list, handed me Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson.

Image result for Parnassus on WheelsImage result for Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day book

But honestly, I feel like most of the books in this category I found because of recommendations from blog readers. Like Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E.Stevenson. Or The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth von Arnim. A reader once recommended the book Mrs ‘Aaris goes to Paris, by Paul Gallico, and I’ve always assumed it would follow this trope, but I can’t say for sure because I’ve never managed to get my hands on it.

Image result for miss buncle's book, by d.e.stevensonImage result for mrs arris goes to paris novelImage result for The Enchanted April

I’ve never found a nonfiction book that really follows this trope. Which is probably just as well, since the reason we devour these books is because they’re just more satisfying than real life.

However I re-read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom this year, and I was struck by how, in an odd way, her life followed a similar plotline. It wasn’t that she had an unhappy life, but it was rather dull and uneventful. Here she lived, with her father and older sister, into her 40s. Working at the same watch repair shop, living in the rooms above and behind it…the same places she’d spent her entire life.

And then suddenly WWII comes along, and she’s caught up in the most exciting adventurous life. Secret rooms! Coded messages! Saving lives! Of course, then came the horror of prison, and the death of so many people she loved. But I find it fascinating that Ten Boom never had a boring life again, after that decision to shelter Jewish people in her home. Because after prison she was a world-famous author and speaker.

In a similar vein is Paris Underground by Etta Shiber. Shiber had done a few more things in her 60 years of life than Ten Boom had done in her 40 years. She’d married, become widowed, and lived in a few different places. But the book sort-of had the same vibe. She and her friend, both widows in their 60s, were settling down for a quiet, uneventful life. But on a whim they make the decision to do the right thing…save someone’s life and help them escape Paris…and suddenly these two older ladies were living this exciting life, smuggling humans to freedom.

Anyway. If you like one book on this list, chances are you’d like the others. And if you know other books that follow this charming trope, please let me know! Some of my very favorite books came from reader suggestions. (Also, Christmas is coming up, and I need to fill out my wish list.)

Bookweek 2019 Day 3: Books that Changed my Life this Year

Usually I judge books by how much they make me think, or how interesting they are, or how well they transport me to another world. I like well-drawn characters and fun plots and magical, mystifying moments that make me gape in awe at the thought of a flesh-and-blood human coming up with such a thing.

In short, I vastly prefer fiction to nonfiction.

But when I start judging by other criteria–that is, by which books have actually changed my life in visible ways–most of them are nonfiction books. (Also, most of them I never actually finished reading, haha.)

Anyway. Here are the books that changed my life this past year.

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking

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I read this book because I was trying to do a holiday blogging series, and I wanted to write about cozy winter-themed books.

This book recommended wool sweaters as a path to hygge, so I bought a merino wool sweater. A slightly over-sized, gray and darker gray striped, cozy sweater made in Ireland. $4 at a thrift store.

Then, I proceeded to wear this sweater all the time. In Pennsylvania especially, it was the only garment I owned that made me feel warm, so I literally wore it every single day. I felt like a cartoon character.

That was the primary way this book changed my life, but it also inspired me to buy a candle. I toyed with the idea all year, and finally bought one this fall. (Actually, I asked Jenny to pick one up for me and she just bought it as a gift. That’s the kind of sister I have, folks.)

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, by Scott Adams

This book was on my brother Matt’s bookshelf when I stayed at his house over Christmas. I have a particular dislike of self-help books, so I was surprised when I found that I resonated deeply with the things Adams was saying. I concluded that Adams must be an Enneagram 5, and that’s why both Matt and I find his advice useful. Heh heh.

Maybe it sounds cheesy to say–and maybe everyone knows this already–but if you want to succeed, you just gotta get out there and fail a lot. I knew that on a surface level already–you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and all that jazz–but I was able to really believe it on a deeper level after reading Adams’ book.

Also. Adams gives tons of advice that’s just plain practical and useful.

I would say it changed me, because I’m now learning to tell myself a different story about my failures. One where I’m on a path to success rather than completely incompetent.

No plot? No problem!, by Chris Baty

When I started this book, I didn’t understood the term “process” as it related to writing. When I finished the book (and by “finished” I mean stopped reading 5/6ths of the way through) I still didn’t understand the term. Because Baty doesn’t talk about finding your process.

Instead, he offers a one-size-fits-all process: Tell all your friends that you’re writing a novel in a month, and then sit at your computer and pound out 1,667 words per day.

I tried it, and failed spectacularly. I had no plot, and it was a problem, thank you very much Baty. I didn’t know what should happen next, so I wrote dumb stuff that I hated, and then I tried to make it extra-serious for some reason, which was stupid because it was based on a silly premise. I hated the book so much that I didn’t want to work on it anymore.

But taking the Scott Adams approach, I was able to figure out a lot about my writing process through this failure.

Like, if there’s no humor in my book, I am going to eventually hate it. Also, a writing system works much better for me than a writing goal does (Adams was big on having systems instead of goals). And finally, I have to know where the plot is going before I start writing. At least have some idea.

Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book?, by Ally Carter

When I read Carter’s book, I understood “process.”

“Should I plot out my entire novel as I go, or should I just fly by the seat of my pants?” readers asked Carter. To which she replied that every writer has a different process. The system that works for them, even if they hate it. That’s the thing you, as an author, need to figure out: your process.

“Ah,” I thought. “That’s what happened in February, when I tried to write a novel in a month. I was figuring out my process.”

Carter gave tons of smart practical advice, which I haven’t used yet because I’m not allowing myself to write a novel until I finish my memoir. However, one stray phrase she tossed out has lodged permanently in my brain, altering my outlook on life.

She said, “That’s a problem for future you.”

See, the book was actually aimed at teenagers who want to write books. So these teens were asking her lots of questions like “how do I find an agent?” and “will publishers take me seriously if I’m so young?”

Her point, then, was that there’s no use worrying about agents and publishers if you haven’t written at least a second draft of a complete novel. “That’s a problem for future you.”

And I tell myself this all the time, not just in writing-related manners. Whenever I start worrying about something in the future that has no relevance for today. “That’s a problem for future you.”

Drowned Ammet, by Diana Wynne Jones

This is the only fiction book on the list, and it’s hard to explain exactly how this book changed my life. In essence though, after I read the first few pages of this book I finally understood why I write.

I think a lot of people write because they want their voice to be heard, but that has never resonated with me. Most of what I write is not intended for anyone else to read. So I’ve never really understood why I write so compulsively.

I read Drowned Ammet last spring. In it the main character, Mitt, was a little boy growing up in this windy place full of dikes and ditches. One day, the wind died down for the first time that he could remember. Without the wind, everything felt different. Sounded different. Smelled different. And he was so young he thought this feeling was a place. So he ran away from home to try and find this place.

I was so confused when I read those first few pages. Huh? The wind died down and he thought it was a place? How does that even make sense?

But I read it over a few times, and then it did make sense to me. Because I’ve felt that way too. Where something is different. A song is playing in a deserted airport while I’m very very sleepy. Or I watch a movie alone at midnight, and the storyline haunts me. Or I see a painting and feel as though I know the people therein. In these times, art doesn’t seem like mere art, but rather a place I can reach. With my own art. With writing.

I write, then, to get to a place I feel. A place I can only glimpse. A place that feels better than this place. (And actually, reading the Emily of New Moon books again, I wonder if this is similar to Emily’s “flash.”)

Five books that changed my life this year, from buying a sweater to understanding why I write.

What books have changed your life this year?

 

Bookweek 2019, Day 2: Finding Yourself in Books

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Back in 2014, I attempted to write a few paragraphs about every book I read that year. I found those notes recently, and re-reading my thoughts five years later was fascinating.

See, normally I write about books for my blog, or talk to friends about books. Rarely do I write about books just for myself. But seeing these private thoughts gave me such insight into what I thought and felt back then.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones (re-read)

I love this book so much. It is the culmination of all the beautiful things I like to fancy in my head before I fall asleep. Also, this time through, I noticed remarkable similarities between *Bill and Howl. Mysterious evocative names. Remarkable abilities done in a slap-dash manner. The talents to do great things, without the drive. Slithering out. Mythical creatures, in their own right. And somehow, just the right characteristics to make them attractive, despite, or maybe because of, their faults.

P.S. I think I have a remarkable belief in the tendency of books to parallel life, almost telling the future, in a way. Like the John Donne poem that already existed, but paralleled Howl’s life and was turned into a curse.

*obviously changed that name, LOL

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

I wasn’t entirely sold on Estella. Of course she was an absolute jerk, but she got her entire deserved punishment in the end, and was completely broken. I was okay with giving her a second chance.

However, it drove me absolutely nuts to see the way Pip loved her so unreasonably. He even admits it is unreasonable, which I find horrifying. Esp. in my Scientific Study of Romance days, the idea of just loving someone without control or reason…absolutely X3 detestable.

So in any case, I really liked this book. I didn’t love it, but I think that was just because it didn’t parallel my life in any way.

Emily’s Quest, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (re-read)

I thought it would be nice to read a story of a girl, in her 20s, contentedly living at home, single, writing, and having an interesting life. I thought I would “get” it better than I did when I was younger. I thought it was secretly about me.

However, the book was depressing. Except for the Dean year, the years flew by so quickly it seemed like she must have a super boring life, if that’s all there was to write about it. Way more years per page than the first two books.

And you know it was just a stupid misunderstanding keeping her from Teddy.

Worth a read, yes, but not worth a re-read.

Ever since I re-read these thoughts, I’ve been thinking about the way I use fiction to understand my life. About the way I read books to find myself and people I know, slapped between the pages.

Like Little Women. Every time I read it I feel not only like I personally am Jo March, but like my older sister Amy is Meg March, and my younger sister Jenny is Amy March. Seriously, I think Jo and Amy March’s relationship is the closest thing I’ve found in literature to Jenny and my relationship. Both characters are very ambitious, but Amy is always trying to get Jo to act in socially acceptable ways, LOL.

And then, of course, there’s Emily Byrd Starr from the Emily of New Moon series. The Emily books were written by L.M. Montgomery, who also wrote the Anne of Green Gables series. I liked the Anne books as a child, and always have. But I actually think Emily of New Moon might have been my first Montgomery.

In any case, I always felt like I was reading about myself when I read the Emily books. I mean first of all, obviously, we have the same first name. We both were writing obsessively from about age 12 onward. We both had dark hair and light eyes, and liked cats. And we both spent most of our time inside our own heads.

We basically were the same person.

I recently picked up Emily of New Moon again and, upon finishing it, started into the second book of the series, Emily Climbs. Now the question remains: Will I again crack open the terrible third book in the series, Emily’s Quest? The one where she spends her 20s living a boring life, separated from her true love because of some dumb misunderstanding, and almost marries terrible child-groomer Dean Priest?

Five years ago, I decided this book was not worth reading again, ever. But now, I’m itching to crack it open again. To find a new meaning in it. Maybe it’s not about true love, at least not right away. 28 is a reasonable time to finally find true love. But the book is actually about her writing career. It’s about, not just wanting to be a writer, but being a writer. And what that takes. I feel like I actually would get it, now that I’ve poured so much into making this my career.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I would still hate it. Maybe in the end it’s not actually about me.

I’m curious, do you find yourself, your acquaintances, and your relationships in books? Do you see them as a parallel to help you understand your own life? What book characters make you think, “this is me?”

Bookweek 2019, Day 1: All About My Book

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I’ve been wanting to do a bookweek since August, ya’ll. August. And it’s November.

What the bunnyslipper.

Well, here we go. I think I have time this week to spit out some blog posts. And if I don’t have time, I’ll create some time. Because seriously, soon it will be Christmas, and I want to do 12 Days of Blogmas from December 13-December 24. (Hopefully my computer cord won’t explode this time.) So if I want to do a 2019 Bookweek, I’ll have to do it soon.

Today’s topic?

My book.

Yes, that’s right. As I’ve alluded to several times on this blog, I am writing a book about my travels last year, where I lived in a different community every month. And sometimes people are like, “so, what’s up with this book? When will I be able to read it?”

Let’s talk about that.

I began writing this book in March. My plan was to just write this book in a relatively short amount of time, and self-publish it before Christmas. (Yes, this Christmas! LOL.) I hoped it would give me enough of a financial boost to become an official book writer instead of freelance article writer. And also to move out for good. Maybe go back to one of the places I’d visited on this trip, and stay a little longer.

At the time, I was recovering from a disastrous attempt to write a novel during the month of February, so I decided that slow-and-steady, coupled with nonfiction-instead-of-fiction, was the way to go for now. On and on I went, creating the first draft.

Around the end of July, I pretty much had a first draft in hand. I’d written about the long drive East, my stay in Tennessee, my time in Ohio, Thanksgiving in Lancaster PA, Delaware, Christmas in Washington DC, Florida, Myerstown PA, a week in Philadelphia, Lancaster City PA, and some parts of my month in Hutchinson Kansas. But I was tired of writing the first draft, and thought, “I’ll finish writing about Hutchinson later.” So I started on the second draft.

I revised my first chapter in early August and sent it to Janessa, my editor. And then the rest of August was gobbled up by my trip to Alaska, writing the five short connected plays on the history of the “To the Unknown God” altar in Athens for our vacation Bible school, and directing said plays. Janessa sent me some feedback but I didn’t really get into it because before long I was flying to Minnesota because my grandpa was dying.

Now, that two-and-a-half weeks in Minnesota was…something else. I had never in my life confronted death so closely before. I’d never seen someone hanging out between the two realms. I’d never touched a dead body while it was still warm.

Another strange thing was that I began to feel, not like I was visiting Minnesota, but like I lived here now. Like this was simply another place I went to live for a month.

Let me backtrack a bit. When I first planned this living-in-a-different-place-every-month adventure, I wanted to leave Oregon on September 15, 2018.

Well on September 11, 2018, my cousin Justin and his wife Kayla, dear friends of mine, lost their infant son in a tragic stillbirth only a few days before he was due. Asher Kai. His funeral was on September 15, so I didn’t leave until September 16.

My Grandpa, at 102 years old, passed away on September 11, 2019. His funeral was on September 15, and we flew back to Oregon on September 16.

Before this, when I said I was writing about my “year” of travel, I really meant school year, not 365-day year. I didn’t want to be in some rando place during the summer, because Oregon summers are dear to my soul. So “year” meant September-June.

But now I began to re-think this. If I wrote about a 365-day year instead, it would contain these oddly parallel losses. And I could write about that time in Minnesota, which felt so significant. My Oregon summer could be just another chapter.

Janessa, in her edits of my first chapter, told me that she wished I’d dive into my thoughts and feelings more, instead of just writing down what happened. And I realized that she was right. But I’d written the whole first draft that way. I’d skimmed over my feelings and expounded upon events.

Revising it–adding it in–that would take some work.

But I called her on the phone when I got back from Minnesota, and we discussed my book at length. I told her my idea of doing a 365-day year, and she really liked it.

So that’s when I decided: I’m going to make this a better book than I’d planned to make it. And I’m going to write about my feelings. And I’m going to make it a 365-day year.

And it will not be ready by Christmas.

“When will it be ready?” You ask.

Well…I don’t know! “Before Christmas” is the best time to publish books. But I don’t want to wait all the way until NEXT Christmas to publish. So…between this Christmas and next Christmas? Is that specific enough?

Meanwhile, I’ve been valiantly trying to cut writing and editing projects out of my life so that I can focus on book writing. With moderate success. But I can’t say “no” to writing a play for our local Church school’s Christmas program. And last year I agreed to a giant editing project that I’ve been focusing my energy on for the past month-ish. And then there’s another project that I believe in so deeply I couldn’t let the opportunity slip. Ah!

Although that last opportunity won’t be a thing for a while yet. So I have time to finish my book first.

I think.

So to sum it all up, yes, my book is a thing. A thing that’s coming. Eventually. (And if, as my Grandma likes to say, the Lord tarries.)

P.S.

Speaking of writing more about personal thoughts and feelings, I decided to make a small switch over on Patreon. So far, my posts have mostly been opinion pieces on semi-controversial topics. But I was digging through some creative nonfiction pieces I’ve written, and I found stuff that I liked, but it was too personal to just show everyone in a public blog. So I decided to start posting some of those pieces on Patreon. 

Last month, I posted an essay about a friend that cut me out of her life. Later this week or next week I’ll post more opinion content, this time about the comedian John Crist. But at the end of the month I plan to post something personal again. I’ll just play it by ear from there.

If you’re interested in reading these bonus blog posts, you can access them by going to my Patreon Page and clicking the red “select” button under the “$1 per month” option. If you’d like to offer extra financial support for my blog you’ll be able to give more than $1, but all it takes is $1 a month to access all my bonus content.

What I’ve Been Reading This Month

I’ve consumed heaps of books this last month. A lot of stuff that’s more “fun” than “thoughtful,” if I’m gonna be honest, but hey, better than scrolling through Instagram, right?

Here’s a blurry picture of all of them lined up on my vanity:

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1. Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen

I thought I had read Sense and Sensibility, but in reality I’d just watched multiple movie versions. Haha. Time to read it for real.

Current Status: Halfway through

Verdict: Delightful. Not, however, one of Austen’s best. We don’t burrow as neatly into the character’s heads as we do in some of her other books. Elinor falls in love, but the audience is informed of this from the perspective of a watchful outsider, instead of from the perspective of the inside of her head. We don’t know how she’s feeling, really.

Because of this, Sense and Sensibility is, along with Mansfield Park, at the bottom of my list of favorite Austen novels. (Emma is at the top for me, with Pride and Prejudice a close second.) Which is interesting, as it’s the second-most-popular Austen book when it comes to movies and plays. I think that’s because it really is a good story. My issue, of not being able to see into the characters’ heads, really isn’t an issue in movies and plays where you never get to see into any character’s head.

2. Hopeless Savages, by Jen Van Meter

I picked this up at the library because I do enjoy a good graphic novel every now and then. A family of punk rock stars? That looked like a fun, interesting read.

Current Status: Read two chapters.

Verdict: Boring. Will not finish.

3. The Girl from Paris, by Joan Aiken

I did this fun thing where I went to the first shelf of the fiction section of the library and read every book title until I found something that looked interesting.

This one looked interesting.

Current Status: Read the whole thing.

Verdict: This was a story about a young woman who went to be a governess for a strange family in Paris, and then later went home to England to take care of her own younger half-sister.

I found it rather interesting, although there were some odd parts, like a really rushed romance, and the abrupt location change mid-book. About 2/3’ds of the way through I realized it must be the second or third book in a series.

I looked it up online later, and yes, it was third in a series. LOL. Reviewers on goodreads were very annoyed at it for not living up to the standard of the first two books. While I agreed with all their criticisms, the truth is I still found the book rather fun.

After all, it contained two random things that I happen to love in books.

  1. A sensible main character
  2. Close, and perhaps rather strange, male-female relationships that are not quite romance.

As far as #2 goes, I’m not sure why I enjoy this so much in fiction when it often turns out disastrous in real life, LOL.

4. Spoiled, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

Way back in the day, the teen YouTubers were all reading this book. When I saw it on the library shelf, I flipped to the back cover and saw that it was about a girl who finds out that her dad is actually a famous movie star. Hee hee. Who could resist a plot like that?

Status: Finished

Verdict: If you’re into fluffy YA that’s pretty clean you’ll enjoy it, but probably will never re-read it, haha. It does have an interesting subtext about family relationships, both father-daughter and sister-sister.

But what’s really delightful, for me, are the masses of 2011 pop culture references. I was actually really into pop culture in 2011, so it feels nostalgic.

5. Drowned Ammet (not pictured) and The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones

These are books 2 and 3 in a series. I read the first book in Tennessee, and was delighted to see that the library here carried the rest of the series.

Current Status: Finished

Verdict: I love it, but then again, I love everything Diana Wynne Jones writes, so there’s that. It’s middle grade fantasy with a sense of humor, as all her books are. This particular series, The Dalemark Quartet, has the best world-building I’ve ever seen from her. It’s a bit darker than some, with war as a central theme.

I don’t know what else to say. I really feel like my readers probably won’t like this book, so there’s probably no sense in recommending it, haha.

Here’s what I’l say: If you’re thinking of getting into Diana Wynne Jones, start with Howl’s Moving Castle. If you happen to love it, then branch out into some of her other books. Maybe the Chrestomanci series. And if you love those too, maybe then give The Dalemark Quartet a try.

6. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

Esta thought I would like this book, and then mailed it to me. Aww! #bestfriendoftheyearaward

Status: Finished

Verdict: Absolutely delightful. I’d say this is the most universally appealing book on this whole pile. Just a happy, satisfying book in the vein of The Blue Castle, or The Enchanted April.

However, I should note that it does have a few problematic moments. Particularly when the main character makes this derogatory, passing comment about how it’s best for an English person to marry someone who’s fully their own race, and that it might not be the best to marry someone with Jewish blood.

Also, the main character, in “living for a day,” rubs shoulders with people who have somewhat loose morals.

7. Elizabeth and her German Garden, by Elizabeth Von Arnum

This book also came from Esta. I wanted to read it because it’s by the same lady who wrote The Enchanted April. And while the charm did not live up to The Enchanted April, it was, in fact, quite charming.

It’s actually more of a memoir of Von Arnum herself, and her absolute delight in her garden. It’s just a happy little book about the joys of gardening, and about her three babies called “April Baby” and “June Baby” and “May Baby” according to the months in which they were born.

I liked that she had a sense of humor, but at times I thought she was a bit unfair in the way she made fun of her guests. And her husband went on the oddest rants about how women are inferior to men. I think he was meant to be laughed at by the reader, but I’m not quite sure.

But anyway. It was charming and delightful, nonetheless.

8. The Way of a Bride with her Groom, by Earnest Witmer

I picked this book up because I know/know of the author. I’d heard that it was the story of himself and his wife, Rachel, who was killed in a car crash six or seven years ago.

Status: Read the story parts, skimmed/skipped the marriage advice parts. (To be honest, I almost never read nonfiction books. I do enjoy a good memoir and the occasional writing advice book. Other than that, I’m a nonfiction article reader, but for books I stick to fiction.)

Verdict: I found the story parts very interesting, but I feel I’m somewhat biased because I know the author somewhat. And also biased because I take great delight in hearing people’s romantic stories, heehee.

I think my favorite scene was this one where Earnest asked Rachel out, and she turned him down, but he still felt honored, and like it wasn’t shameful or embarrassing that he’d asked. Personally, I wish I’d received more training on how to turn a guy down in an honoring way. I have this hypothesis that if girls were better at turning guys down, guys wouldn’t be so nervous to keep asking girls out even if they’d gotten a lot of rejections, and so everyone would have better odds at finding a life partner.

Of course, that hypothesis remains untested. Feel free to pull it apart as much as you desire.

9. Dear Ally, How Do You Write a Book? By Ally Carter

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This book was displayed in the teen section during the same library run in which I picked up Spoiled. I snatched it up because I often ask that very question. How do I write a book?

Status: 1/3 of the way through.

Verdict: Fantastic. I recommend it to anyone who wants to know how to write a novel. Here are the things I’ve loved so far about this particular book, as opposed to other books on writing I’ve read (or skimmed.)

  1. The book has a concise, narrow focus. It is about how to write a novel, and does not veer off into general musings on writing.
  2. The book is aimed at teens, but doesn’t talk down to teens, which I really appreciate as a former teenage writer of books.
  3. Also, maybe because of teenage focus, Carter writes in a very interesting, engaging, concise way.
  4. She also answers all the random questions I’ve always worried about, but never got good advice about. Like, “how many words should my novel be?”
  5. Also, she gives specific answers to even the most squishy questions. Most authors, when giving advice on something like word count, will say something like “that depends on the book.”
    Carter says, “that depends on the book,” but then she provides a full page spread of authors listing the word count of their shortest book, and the word count of their longest book.

10. Lady in Waiting, by Debby Jones and Jackie Kendall

I was writing a play on the book of Ruth, and was amused by the way that Ruth asked Boaz to marry her. This prompted me to write on Facebook, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was a Christian dating advice book based on the story of Ruth? Ladies, find a rich guy, sneak up to him while he’s sleeping, and ask him to marry you.”

Well, I was quickly informed that there was a dating advice book called Lady in Waiting which was based on Ruth. Then my roommate told me she owned a copy.

Status: Skimmed.

Verdict: Um….let’s just say, Lady in Waiting draws some very strange conclusions from the book of Ruth. How do you get “Don’t chase boys! Wait for the right man to come along and sweep you off your feet!” from a Bible story in which the woman asks the man to marry her?

In fact, I was so irritated that I wrote a whole bonus blog post titled “Five Actual Romantic Lessons from the Life of Ruth.” It’s available now on my Patreon page, for those who subscribe for $1 or more per month.

So those are the books I’ve been into for the last month. What have you been reading lately?

Blogmas 2018: Cozy Books to Read During the Holidays

Nonfiction

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, by Meik Wiking

“Hygge” is a Danish word that doesn’t really have an English translation, though it could be described as “cozy togetherness.” Think of a group of friends sitting in front of a fire, sipping hot cider. The Danes carefully construct their lives so that they experience as much Hygge as possible. For instance, having candles burning at the office and in school classrooms.

Wiking decided that the rest of the world was missing out, so he wrote an entire little book on the subject. I don’t usually read much nonfiction, and I only picked it up because I was looking for cozy/winter-themed books for this blog post. But I thought it was irresistibly charming.

It has some etymology, some recipes, some exploration of culture, and various tips on how to incorporate Hygge into your life. After reading, I promptly went out and bought an oversized wool sweater from a thrift store.

Christmas Stories

P.S. These are all children’s books. I don’t know why there aren’t more good Christmas stories aimed at adults, but alas. I tried to find some and had little luck. If you know of any good ones, let me know!

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is probably my favorite Christmas-themed story ever.

First, because Robinson has a John Crist-level grasp on the idiosyncrasies of American Christian culture. They’re a wee bit outdated, as this book was written in the early ’70s, but still hilarious.

And you know how I wrote, once, that you can tell when an author knows her/his subject because they know what goes wrong? Well let me tell you, Robinson certainly knows what goes wrong while directing a Christmas Pageant.

The Tailor of Gloucester, by Beatri

This little book is so charming and delightful. The Christmas theme isn’t super heavy-handed, but the book hinges on the fact that a wonderful coat needs to be finished for the mayor to wear on his wedding day, which is on Christmas morning.

Somehow this books makes getting married on Christmas morning seem like the most charming thing ever.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

This classic introduction to the Narnia series (and trust me, it’s a much better introduction than The Magician’s Nephew) is the perfect cozy book to read over the Christmas holidays. So wintry! So charming!

While it’s not a “Christmas story” per se, Christmas is an important part of the plot. I’m not quite sure how Christmas existed in Narnia at that point, as Christ had a different name there, and hadn’t even died yet. But it’s still a cool bit of symbolism to play with. You know, Christmas coinciding with the savior coming, the end of winter’s grip, etc.

Ramona and her Father, by Beverly Cleary

This book begins with the start of a new school year, and ends with a Christmas Pageant. It’s a very rainy Christmas, being set in Oregon, and that felt like a nice touch.

P.S. Did you know that Beverly Cleary is 102 years, 8 months, and 12 days old?

Lovely Classics that Feel Wintry

There’s something about a classic novel that feels cozy and wintry, like it should be read in front of a fireplace. Here are some that feel dramatic and wintry, but still feature a good cozy happy ending.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

I actually looked up a timeline of this book to see if it was set in winter. It takes place in all seasons. But I still feel like, between the orphanage and the giant mansion, Jane is cold a lot. So it feels like a winter book to me.

Persuasion, by Jane Austin

I read on a random blog that Persuasion is the most wintry of all Jane Austin’s books. I agree. I have no evidence to back this up. It just feels wintry for some reason, Haha.

True-ish Books Set in Harsh Climates

Mrs Mike, by Benedict and Nancy Freedman

A young girl moves to Alberta for health reasons, and falls in love with a Mountie. What follows is a fascinating account of the harsh realities of life up north.

There are several scenes in this book which really fascinated me and stuck with me. But I’m afraid telling them would spoil key parts of the story.

Tisha, by Robert Specht

Tisha is similar to Mrs. Mike, only with more idealism and less tragedy. The book follows a girl named Anne who moves to Alaske to become a teacher, or “Tisha,” as her students call her.

I haven’t read this book in ages, but I recall it being lovely.

Kyra, by Kyra Petrovskaya

While all three of these books are based on true stories, Kyra is an actual memoir of a woman who lived in the Soviet Union during WWII.

Her story was enthralling. I could hardly believe so many things, and so many husbands, had happened to one person. Particularly fascinating was her account of living through the Siege of Leningrad.

It’s interesting to me that although we have countless books, movies, etc based on WWII, most of them are from an American, British, or German perspective. But the Soviet Union had far and away the most deaths. Kyra was the first WWII book I’d ever read from a Soviet Union perspective.

That’s all for now. I was going to add a section. I was going to add a section about cozy topic memoirs, like food memoirs and home renovation memoirs, but it’s Christmas eve y’all and I’m too tired.