A Few of My Favorite Things: Books 2015

I think there’s always a part of me that will miss having a book blog. After putting together December’s Culture Consumption, I started wondering… what WERE my favorite books of 2015? To figure that out, I pulled up my Library Thing account and started sorting by date finished, and then I started looking at the ratings. Anything four stars or higher got written down on the appropriate list: a full five stars are listed as favorites, and four and four-and-a-half stars were honorable mentions.

Why Library Thing instead of Goodreads? Because LT allows for half stars, which means when I’m rating on Goodreads, I might round up or down depending on how I want the rating to look on that site. LT is a more accurate reflection of my thoughts.

I also did not include a few of the fun, children’s type books on the list. I’m a sucker for Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader series, and Simon Tofield’s Simon’s Cat books are adorable. So they didn’t get counted.

Before I review my favorites and honorable mentions, I did want to make a few points:

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One of These Days….

I fantasize that one day, someone will pay me to read for a living. I have all these reading projects I want to embark on in addition to all the other stuff I want to read, and there’s simply not enough time in the day.

But if there were enough time in the day, and ESPECIALLY if someone were paying me to read for a living so that I could embark on these projects, this is what I’d like to do.

1) Re-read the Harry Potter series. I re-watched the movies over Christmas, and it was a lot of fun re-watching with the series’ end informing the scenes. I can only imagine how much fun it will be to do the same with the books.

2) Read Charles de Lint’s Newford series using his recommended reading order. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages, and I’ve got quite a few of the titles. I just need to start!

3) Read the Norton Book of Science Fiction edited by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a BEAST, and I know I won’t like every story, but I think it’ll be well worth the effort.

4) Blame this one on the Writing Excuses podcast and Cherie Priest: I suddenly have a desire to give H.P. Lovecraft another go. I tried reading At The Mountains of Madness but the writing style did me in. However, listening to Writing Excuses episode 10.3, “Lovecraftian Horror” and learning what Lovecraft did and how he did it and how it was effective really has me wanting to track down a “Lovecraft for Beginners” reading list and make my way through it. Problematic the writer definitely is, but his lessons on horror might be quite fascinating.

5) This is an easy one, one I might actually start putting in my rotation: return to my original passion of reading women who write SF. Not just fantasy, but SF in particular. Because women writing SF need more love, and there’s tons of titles I still need to explore.

6) I’m sure there are other reading projects that have taken root in my subconscious, but they’re not rising to the surface at the moment. But even if I could do these, I’d have more than enough to keep me busy, and that doesn’t include the very necessary need to climb Mount TBR and whip it into submission!

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Today’s headline comes from “These Days” by Foo Fighters, from the album Wasted Light. You can hear the song here, and you can blame both Jaime Lee Moyer for using a lyric from this song for her blog post (which is far more interesting than this one, you should read it) and my husband for watching HBO’s first season of Sonic Highways and getting the Foo stuck in my head.

New Rules

So I know Bill Maher is a controversial figure. However, my husband likes to watch his show, and if I’m in the vicinity, I’ll perk up for the final segment of “New Rules,” because, by and large, there can be some interesting observations about human behavior and its hypocrisy. Who hasn’t witnessed something and wanted to shout, “You are NOT allowed….” or “You must ALWAYS….” because they’re dealing with something surpassing common sense?

Today, I came up with a few:

1) If I call you and it’s not a good time to talk, don’t answer your phone. If you feel like you MUST answer the phone, even if it’s legitimately a bad time, you have to be as polite and courteous as possible and tell that person you’ll call them back. Don’t be rude and don’t tell THEM to call back later: how do they know it’s not a good time?

2) If you’re returning my call, return the call at YOUR convenience. Don’t call me and tell me it’s a bad time to talk. If I call you and it’s a bad time, there is some leeway for being rude despite New Rule #1. However, if you call me and then tell me it’s not a good time for whatever reason? Rudeness, curtness, and being brusque is not allowed. You called me, remember? Either call me at a good time, or suck it up and be polite despite said bad time.

3) If you happen to be a member of any kind of clergy, if you’re a preacher or pastor or seen as a respected religious figure in your community, you are NOT allowed to be rude EVER. I get it, you’re human, and you have bad days like the rest of us. So if you slip up, we’ll forgive you…. but only if you recognize the error of your ways and apologize to us directly. Jesus forgives and all that, but you’re the face of your church, and if you’re rude to me, that speaks louder than words.

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Currently Writing: Codename: Magic Twins
Last night’s word count: 1404 words
Total word count: 10,027 words
Hey, I broke 10K! The words are crap, mind you. I’m basically brainstorming through narrative. Or it may be more accurate to say I’m brainstorming via info-dumping dialogue. Whatever. I ended up writing more last night than my start time would’ve have foreseen, and I had to stop myself so I could actually get sleep. Go me?

Currently Reading: Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance
Ugh… where did my reading time go? I want it back!

Next up: I think tomorrow will be a normal day. I think. I hope. I plan. I’m contemplating some major schedule changes, and I’ve bounced those changes by a few people and so far the response has been positive. The more I talk about it, the more I’m convinced I’ll do it. There’s a few details to be ironed out though, so for now, I shall not blog about it directly. Yet.

Becoming Janus

Happy New Year’s Eve! It’s the time of year to sit down, reflect on what’s gone by, to look forward to the future, and to attempt to mold that future through a resolution or two. It sounds daunting because we’re talking about, yanno, a year, and it sounds daunting because we usually have BIG IDEAS and BIG PLANS for that year, and often, it’s easy to fall off the saddle before January has even wrapped up.

I have some friends who don’t do resolutions. Not just the ones who don’t do resolutions at all, but those who simply have a different approach. My friend Nu Yang names her years: she gives herself a theme and focuses each year to make sure everything she does is supporting that theme. I love that idea. It’s not one I can embrace for myself, because I need more direction, but I love it. However one approaches a new year, if it works, hats off to you!

As for me, it’s time to reflect: what happened, where I am now, and what I hope to maybe accomplish in 2015. If you’re interested, just click the cut. If you’re not, Happy New Year! May your 2015 be better than 2014.

I sure as hell hope mine is.

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A Year in Reflection: 2013

Every year, I struggle to believe that it’s already over. I remember when I was a child, when my year was structured into definitive patterns: school, break, vacation, etc. Now the months just slide on by, because every day of every month is marked with more of the same. Work, eat, sleep, repeat. When I was compiling addresses for Christmas cards this year, I always felt at a loss when people asked what I’ve been up to lately, because for me, the answer is, the same old thing. I don’t look at my life as anything interesting or exciting, and as a result, when people ask what’s up, all I do is shrug, you know?

I realized, a few days ago, that such a response is somewhat disingenuous of me. Because while my life is not filled with the crazy ups and downs (we don’t have kids, we’re not having marital difficulty, we’ve not moved or had major job upheavals, etc), there are things I should be really, really proud of this year, things that are worth talking about. So I thought I’d share them here, with you.

1) I retired the book blog. It was a bittersweet event, but one I knew needed to happen, because it was a major source of anxiety for me, and I found I was getting more and more jaded by the books I read, rather than simply enjoying them for what they were. Looking back, I’m very proud of all the work I did there and the community I fostered, but I don’t regret closing it. I can’t believe I found the time to read so much or write so many reviews. But that’s because I’ve filled that time with other things.

2) I’m slowly getting over my cooking-phobia. It’s a running joke in mine and my husband’s families: I don’t cook. I can do a few things, sure, but any more than those few things I’m likely to screw up somehow (like the time I put the Hot Pocket in the microwave without its cooking sleeve). My husband and I have a handful of things we argue about, and cooking is one of them. However, ever since I discovered the Andes Mint Cookie recipe, I’ve been starting to branch out and getting a wee bit more comfortable in the kitchen. Mostly cookies, and cake-mix cookies at that. However, I’ve also tried a few glazes for salmon, and of the meals we usually make, I started helping out more and have gradually gotten to the point where, if need be, I can do it myself. I know I need to branch out even more, but this year’s been a good step.

3) I’ve actually developed an exercise regimen and I’ve stuck to it. Mostly. The spring got me walking again, and my employer’s walking initiative kicked my motivation into competitive mode so that I can reach and pass 10,000 steps a day. Not only did that get me walking daily, but it also got me on the elliptical every morning before work for 30 minutes. The walking initiative is over, and with the time change and colder weather, walking is on the back-burner until the weather warms up again, but I’ve kept up the elliptical, which is something of an amazing accomplishment for me. I’d like to find something to complement it next year, and that’s going to take some digging, but working out on a regular basis has been an amazing thing, not because I love exercise or anything, but because I’ve kept it up (we won’t talk about the recent holiday gorging on sweets or the days I’ve been skipping due to my cold, no sir).

4) While I can’t talk specifics, we reached a great milestone at work, and as a result, I was treated to an all-expense paid trip to St. Louis to visit headquarters and attend some fantastic sessions to keep upping my game at work and sessions that I could also apply to my own personal life in terms of, well, just being better. Learning how to undo negative thinking and trying to take more positive routes isn’t something that’s done overnight, but trying to take the more positive route in my head instead of the negative one has been really helpful and uplifting. I find myself more cheerful and less stressed. That doesn’t mean NO stress. I’ve had a few late nights at work where it felt like everything was piling up on me, but the difference is before, I would’ve gone home with a migraine, and now I’m not. This is something I’m still working on, but that trip to St. Louis taught me a lot about myself and my job and what I want to accomplish, and that’s a good thing.

5) This is more nebulous, but I realized I’ve got to stop compartmentalizing my life. I’ve always treated my life like a little kid treats their dinner plate: things must not touch! So I had college friends in one box, writing friends in another, family in another, my interests in a billion different ones, and so on and so forth. Do you know how draining it is trying to be one person for each of things things, rather than embracing it all and saying if you don’t like it, fuck it? Seriously. Growing up, I groomed myself to be the kind of person that is accommodating and to be what other people want and expect. And to some extent, that’s a good trait to have (especially when you work with the public on any level), but everywhere else, it’s exhausting. I shouldn’t be apologetic for my interests, no matter how disparate they appear, and I need to stop living in the mind set of “One day, when I grow up, life will be THIS.” Fuck that. I’m 33 years old and living life NOW. What, exactly, am I waiting for? It’s time to take who and what I am and take the cards life’s given me and play the best hand possible, rather than waiting on the magical winning hand that’ll give me the ever-elusive jackpot. And on that note:

6) Like Minute Maid’s slogan says, “Put good in, get good out.” Where I live often gives me a crushing feeling of isolation. None of the people I would call good friends or even best friends are local, and all the writing events or readings I would love to attend aren’t even remotely local, which means in order to visit the people I love, or attend the events I want to, I need to travel, which costs vacation time and money, both of which are not limitless. As a result, I’d find myself feeling bruised and chafed when friends would talk about things they did on Facebook, things I would’ve loved to do but I wasn’t able to (or wasn’t invited). But I realized: what do I expect? I’m not reaching out to these people, I’m not making my interests or wants or desires known. I’ve let my relationships go stagnant, so how can I expect them to include me when I’m probably just an occasional reminder on a Facebook page? I have to start putting myself out there. I have to start re-cultivating these relationships. I have to stop looking at my local friendships as less superior and embrace the time I have with these people, because while I am an introvert by nature, I require a healthy dose of social interaction. In person, online, whatever: put good in, get good out. Time to stop looking in and start looking out.

7) Part of that “put good in, get good out” philosophy is something I’m attributing to myself as a writer. Last year, I finished the crap-draft of a fantasy novel that, in 2014, I’m going to sit down and really hammer into shape. But for 2013, I’m close to finishing a prequel novel to my thesis novel (code name Telepathic Soulmates for those of you who are following up on that). The prequel wasn’t originally going to be an actual novel, but it’s kind of turned into that. I would kill to have it done by the end of the year, but that means I probably shouldn’t be writing this blog post, because I’ve got a decent chunk to churn out if I want to meet that deadline. Regardless, I’ve been happy with my progress this year. I’m starting to take myself a little more seriously as a writer, and I’m trying to look ahead about what I want to accomplish, when I want to accomplish it, and how. The Telepathic Soulmates world is a big one, and I realize it’s not something I want to rush out, because I’m still making discoveries that are molding and shaping the world and its characters. That’s why I’m going to polish the fantasy novel (code name: Magic Elves) next year so that I’ll have something to shop around that isn’t my precious, you know? Also helping shape my writerly frame of mind is the weekly podcast Writing Excuses (15 minutes, because you’re in a hurry, and they’re not that smart–>that’s their slogan. If that doesn’t make you want to listen to the podcast, I don’t know what will). If you’re a writer of any sort (hobby, amateur, want-to-be-professional, whatever), start listening to this puppy. It’s free, and it’s worth it.

8) On December 30th, my husband and I will celebrate our 15 year Together anniversary, and our 5 year wedding anniversary. That’s right: we got married on our ten year dating anniversary. The plan, provided this cold I’m fighting doesn’t get in the way, to go to our favorite fancy-pants restaurant and enjoy good food and good drinks. But 15 years together without killing each other is an amazing thing, and hell, so is five years married. We’ve got each other, and we’ve got the cat. Things are good.

9) I got off the pill. Women know of what I speak. While the hubby and I aren’t trying to have children, being on the pill for so long was doing things to my hormone levels that frankly wasn’t good for me mentally. I’ve been off the pill since June, and that, combined with the exercise and various tweaks I’m making to my diet, have me feeling far, far better, which makes everyone happy.

10) No list is complete without 10 items, right? So last but not least, I’m trying to be more decisive. It’s not that I wasn’t before, but you remember what I said about being accommodating? It’s a bad thing when you’re doing it all the time, or when you think your wants aren’t as important, or you feel like you shouldn’t have the things you want for whatever reason (but namely reasons that are all in your head and involve you punishing yourself). So to that affect, I’ve been trying to be a bit more assertive in the little things: if I want something (for dinner, to listen to on a car ride, to watch a particular movie), I say so. If I definitely don’t want something, I say so. It doesn’t mean I get my way every time, but at least I’m making a clear declaration, you know?

BONUS ITEM: I served on a jury for the first time this year, on a murder trial no less. It was fascinating, and if you missed my break down, you can read all about it here.

That’s my 2013. There were other minor ups and downs, but nothing to expound upon here (though I could put up a post from my cat’s point of view of the year. That would be mighty entertaining). I’ll probably try and put up a post about what I hope for 2014 or what I look forward to, but that’s gonna have to wait. Right now, I’ve got laundry to do, reading to do, and a book to finish writing.

How was your 2013? What was your biggest accomplishment? Any regrets? Things that you want to make better?

So Behind….

Oy, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, so let’s summarize with a list:

1) My cat had a virus a couple of weeks ago. Strange to think that an indoor-only cat could get a VIRUS of all things, but as my vet explained, things can get on your shoes. I walk daily, and my cat LOVES my tennis shoes. So, after a scary bout of non-normal vomiting from my cat, the tennis shoes stay in the closet, and he’s feeling much better. After getting a couple of shots and sleeping the virus off, of course. And thank goodness. At his age (11 years) and weight (17 pounds), any irregular vomiting is something to be concerned about.

2) It’s been raining cats and dogs here. We’re lucky in that we were still able to have fun at two cookouts on the 4th of July, but the rain is ridiculous. And insulting. Somethings I feel like the Big Man Upstairs should pay attention and share the wealth: the fact the East is getting hit with a crapton of rain while the west is burning? Not cool, man… not cool.

3) Due to the rain, I haven’t been able to walk since Thursday. And Thursday morning, when I walked, I forgot to wear my glasses. That was fun. And blurry.

4) Oh, yes, I had a 4.5 day weekend. Full of RAIN. But I made up for that by reading for the Hugos and watching Netflix like a boss.

5) Did you know there’s a movie called Trollhunter and it’s not a SyFy Original Movie? Did you know it’s actually good? Frightening, I know, but if you get a chance to watch, give it a shot: it’s actually a foreign film. I thought the make-up of the trolls was a tick too Jim Henson-ish for my tastes, but the effects and story? Surprisingly enjoyable.

6) I was writing daily, and then I stopped. I blame vacation time. And lots of reading. It’s a pendulum, I swear: if I’m reading a lot, I’m not writing, and if I’m writing a lot, I’m not reading.

7) On the 4th of July, I finally got to try dandelion wine for the first time. Surprisingly sweet, and very enjoyable.

8) That’s all I’ve got for now. Tomorrow is Monday, which means getting back to the grind. Yay?

Today, a list!

1) Yesterday, I saw two dead animals: one was a rabbit at the entrance of my neighborhood. I was all like, “Awww, cute bunny!” because I thought it was just SITTING THERE and then as I passed, it didn’t jump away, and I saw its leg. Poor bunny…. the second dead animal also was discovered in my neighborhood: a snake that ran afoul with a lawn mower. Except I didn’t know it was dead when I came upon it in the street while walking and nearly had a heart attack. I’d say “poor snake,” but… yeah. It’s a snake. Poor bastard is better.

2) The teaser trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has been released, and I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. If I were still in college, or if I still had my ginormous crush on Legolas, I would’ve found high-def screencaps of this sucker and already made Live Journal icons out of all the Legolas shots. Because that’s how I used to roll.

3) Speaking of The Hobbit, I’m totally excited about Evangeline Lily’s character Tauriel. Yeah, she was made-up for the movies, but you know what? I’m cool with that. The books will always be the books and the movies will always be the movies, and damn it, the movies need more girls! And this one brings me a kick-ass elf. So yay. However, I have a theory: she and Legolas will somehow have a RELATIONSHIP (either closely platonic or verging on romantic or actual romance) and he’s all sELFish (see what I did there?) about not helping others except elves and she’s all like, “We have to defeat evil no matter what.” and then? MY THEORY: poor girl’s gonna die. Just you watch: she’s going to die (hopefully heroically), and that will soften Legolas’ heart enough to volunteer for the Fellowship come Frodo’s quest. JUST YOU WAIT.

4) Oh, you probably want a trailer now, don’t you? BEHOLD! The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug teaser trailer.

5) I’ve decided that when I take a day off of work, the office also has to close. Because when I’m gone, all sorts of crazy crap comes out of the wood work, and seriously, why does this stuff WAIT until I’m gone? Tuesday was DEFINITELY my Monday. I did not appreciate that. :-/

6) Fans of Johnny Cash might know that he and June Carter did have one son together: John Carter Cash (hey, John Carter… of Mars?). Well, that son has apparently written a book (by the cover, it looks to be children’s/middle-grade, but I could be wrong), and what I’ve read of the review on Tor.com indicates it’s actually really good. Color me surprised, if for no other reason that I wouldn’t expect a novelist to come out of those two singer/songwriters. 🙂

7) This week I’ve been spending my lunch breaks watching Moonrise Kingdom. I’m not done yet, but it’s weird, quirky, and has both a kitten and Edward Norton. Those latter two things alone make this movie a WIN.

8) I wish this Ariel Makeup Kit from Sephora had come out when I was still an undergrad. Not only did I have shirts and stuff in those exact colors, but I also had the balls to match my eye shadow to said shirts and rock it. Nowadays, I have some shirts to match the eye shadow and nail polish, but it’s not such a good idea for a professional look. But who am I kidding? If I had this kit, I’d totally try it!

9) I’ve decided: if I use the elliptical, then I’ll only do a single lap around the neighborhood. If I don’t use the elliptical (like on weekends or days off from work), I’ll do TWO laps around the neighborhood. Laps are, of course, weather permitting. So weather, permit it, damn it.

10) We’ve started to reach that point in summer where I may need to ignore my own hatred of how my legs are shaped and walk in shorts instead of my usual yoga pants. On the plus side, I’ll be much cooler. On the negative side, my legs are showing. Also, bugs. :-/

Our Daily What?

Yesterday, I was Skyping with a friend of mine and I was telling her how I have a small list of things I’d like to do and/or am doing daily. They are:

1) Read one issue of Hellblazer.

2) Walk the neighborhood (weather permitting).

3) Write one page in current project (which is Space Vampires).

4) Write a blog entry at Calico in Transition.

So, how’s that working out for me? Continue reading