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Books read in 2017 (the goal is 48; let’s see if I can make it this year…)

5. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach. This novel makes me want to retire in India.

4. poemcrazy: freeing your life with words by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge. Review coming March 4, 2017.

3. Alien Contact for Idiots by Edward Hoornaert. After reading Newborn (see #1 below), I knew I wanted to read the previous books in the series. Alien Contact for Idiots is book one. It tells the story of Ell Harmon, a scientist chosen to be among the first to make contact with aliens on Kwadra, an island that splashed down next to Vancouver Island in our world, but was originally located on a parallel earth in a future dimension. 

It’s a delightful story, full of twists and turns. Hoornaert writes sci-fi romance, and be forewarned, at least one of the scenes is extra-spicy.

2. Mercy Inn: A Christmas Novella by Lee Warren. Three diverse travelers, all of them struggling with personal issues, get caught in a late December blizzard, and take refuge in a collection of cabins—an inn that doesn’t appear on any lodging maps of the area. Soon, a power outage forces them to move into the lodge, where the managers live, even though they’d all rather be alone in their misery. The rest of the novella tells how they reached out to one another and helped each other out of the emotional rut they were in. It’s a great concept.

I was a little disappointed with the writing, though, for lacking sparkle. And at least one part was a little far-fetched: when the country singer, about to make a comeback, offers the young disabled woman, who’s studying to be a dental hygienist, a job as her personal manager (because of her social media savvy) at a six figure salary. Really?

I also wish Warren hadn’t revealed the true identity of the innkeepers (angels) to the reader so early on. Better to drop a hint at the conclusion.

Nevertheless, Mercy Inn is worth a read as a Christmas diversion.

  1. Newborn by Edward Hoornaert. I was introduced to this sic-fi romance by Ed’s excerpts of it through Weekend Writing Warriors. Over the course of a few months of 8- to 10-sentence snippets, I became totally intrigued with Jo Beaverpaw, the heroine.
    Jo is born fully grown in the woods, knowing that she has a mission: to assassinate Squitt, the leader of a rebellion in Kwadra (an island nation that splashed down next to Vancouver Island in our world, but was originally located on a parallel earth in a future dimension). She knows just enough to complete her mission, and then end her life. But things do not go according to plan.

The most interesting parts of this character is how she accumulates knowledge, and how she yearns to be a normal human being–but is that even possible? There’s so much she, and we readers, don’t understand.

In the beginning, the other characters (and I) were very suspicious of Jo and her intentions. Although committed to her Destiny, as time passes she becomes attracted to Darby, Scritt’s bodyguard, and longs to be a person with a future. She considers what is good and what is evil, and how to discern the difference between the two.

Hoornaert’s writing is suspenseful and fast moving. Both Jo’s life and Darby’s are in just as much danger as Scritt’s, and Jo’s reprogramed to ensure the success of her mission.

The book is a fast read, and very satisfying. Although a stand-alone, it is Book 3 of the Alien Contact for Idiots series, which I am now going to have to read in its entirety.

Rereading the same book produces new insights because the reader is a different person. Indeed, a good book is very much like a mirror: The glass is the same year after year, but the reflection in it changes over time.–Christopher B. Nelson, president of St. John’s College

Books read in 2016 (the goal was 48; sigh):

39. How to Write Funny: Add Humor to Every Kind of Writing edited by John B Kachuba. Review here.

38. C Is for Christmas: The History, Personalities, and Meaning of Christ’s Birth by David W. and Warren W. Wiersbe. I have a tradition of reading at least one Christmas book during December. I bought this in Kindle format a few years ago, and chose it as my seasonal reading this year.

The Wiersbe father-and-son team examined every incarnation-related scripture in the Bible, Old and New Testaments, and indexed them in C is for Christmas. The topics are arranged alphabetically, covering concepts such as Advent, Bethlehem, Epiphany, Glory, Immanuel, Joy, Messiah, Peace, Shepherds, Tidings, Word, and Zechariah. This makes it easy to look up the significance of any nativity-related word. The explanations are so thorough, however, that the same information is often given under several headings, making for redundancy if you read the book cover to cover.

The best way to use this book is as an advent devotional, picking and choosing your articles. C is for Christmas is a great resource for family devotions or for children’s bedtime stories during December, because the clear, concise language is readily understood by children.

37. The Martian by Andy Weir. This is the book that the Matt Damon movie was based on. It was a fabulous movie. Of course, the book is even better than the movie.

The Martian was recommended to me by a fellow writer, because I was having a problem writing my work-in-progress, in which my main character spends lots of time alone in the woods, with no one to interact with. Astronaut Mark Watney, the protagonist of The Martian, was unintentionally abandoned on Mars when he was presumed dead during a severe dust storm that forced his team to abort their mission. He spends nearly two years as the only living being on a dead planet.

The theme of The Martian is perseverance. Watney never gives up, even though the odds of rescue are slim. He carefully calculates strategies that will prolong his life and enable him to escape. Even when setbacks occur, he spends little energy on negativity. Instead, he searches for solutions.

I think The Martian should be required reading in high schools. Of course, then students will demand excellent science programs as well…

36. Chaos by Patricia Cornwell. I’m a huge fan of Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta series. This installment takes place mostly in the space of 24 hours and in a very small geographic area. Roughly 200 of the 385 pages are set at the crime scene. Much of the narrative is procedural, which is par for the series. Fortunately, it is frequently punctuated with Kay interacting with other investigators or recalling other incidents that may or not be related to the death she’s investigating, a young bicyclist who Kay spoke with twice that same day.

The plot is complex, with many twists and turns. The characters we love are all here: Benton, Marino, Lucy, Janet, and even Dorothy, Kay’s self-centered sister, who makes a surprise visit. A previous villain resurfaces.

The novel kept me guessing until the very end. In fact, Chapter 45 (of 47) is the most stress-provoking thing I’ve read in a long time. (Don’t spoil it for yourself by reading it first.)

35. The Whistler by John Grisham. I love Grisham’s complexly layered legal thrillers. The Whistler doesn’t disappoint. Two investigators for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct receive a tip about a judge who apparently has been taking bribes from a casino operation for virtually her entire distinguished career. As they research the claim and interview contacts, they gradually uncover a deadly crime ring, putting themselves and the whistleblower in danger. Compelling page turner.

34. My Rhyme-Time Bible for Little Ones by Donna Clark Goodrich. I’m counting this as a book read, even though it’s a children’s book. Review here.

33. Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich. I will always buy the latest Stephanie Plum novel. They are one (actually, 23, so far) of my guilty pleasures. They are not great examples of writing, but I love the characters, and feel like I know them personally. Also, our previous address was in Hamilton Square, NJ, around the corner from Stephanie’s hometown of Trenton.

This installment of the life of bounty hunter Stephanie includes under-cover work at an ice cream factory, a serial murderer clown, and Stephanie’s grandmother dyeing her hair red and dating a tattooed biker bartender. Evanovich is always good for a laugh and a quick read.

32. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. My third or fourth reread of this book. Review coming.

31. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. I never saw the movie that came out in 2000 or read the book it was based on, written in 1995. But a lot of people called it one of their favorite books, so it was on my TBR list for a couple of decades, and I finally read it.

Why? The main character, Rob, is pathetic. He owns a marginally solvent record store, and has two employees. He blames everybody else for his lack of success, including his ex-girlfriends and his co-workers. But his problem is he’s an unmotivated whiner. He’s the sort of person I take pains to avoid.

It’s unbelievable to me when his last girlfriend comes back. What is it she sees in him? And she works so hard on his behalf. He doesn’t begin to grow until Chapter 34, the next-to-last chapter of the book. It’s too little, too late.

Virtually the entire book is three 30-something guys arguing about which obscure band is better than the other. Pointless and boring. Or incredibly dated for me to be just getting around to it

30. Clapton: The Autobiography by Eric Clapton. Review coming November 29, 2016.

29. Beautiful Hero: How We Survived the Khmer Rouge by Jennifer H. Lau. Review here.

28. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. Review here.

27. The Audacity to be a Writer: 50 Inspiring Articles on Writing that Could Change Your Life by Bryan Hutchinson, et al. Review here.

26. Blind Spot by Laura Ellen. Two years ago I attended a day-long writer’s workshop where Ms. Ellen was a presenter. She held a drawing for some of her books, and I won my choice. I decided on this one because she talked about writing it in her presentation, and it sounded interesting. I even got her to autograph it. When I got home, I slipped it into a bookshelf and promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward to August, 2016. Why is everything in my To Be Read skyscraper non-fiction? I desperately searched my bookshelves for fiction I haven’t read yet. I could always reread one of my old favorites, but I really wanted a new escape. When I found Blind Spot, I had no recollection of buying it or how I even came to possess it. Seeing the signature on the title page, though, brought it all back.

High school student Roz (short for Roswell) would rather no one knew about her macular degeneration, a condition that was slowly blinding her. As a result, she often couldn’t recognize people or see the expressions on their faces, confusing her and causing her to misread situations. When Tricia, one of her classmates, disappears (and her body is found six months later), Roz realizes she’s one of the last persons who saw her alive. Why can’t she remember the details of that night?

This is a difficult book to read because of its bleak subject matter: drugs, exploitation, mental illness, date rape. Was Tricia murdered? By whom? People are not what they seem. Who can Roz trust?

As unpleasant as the subject is, I was captivated by the story and by the skill of the writer. Ellen knows how to twist a plot. 

I am an old lady who loves to read young adult novels. However, because of the mature subject matter, I don’t recommend passing it on to your teenager without previewing it. Parents need to judge whether their kids are ready for something like this.

25. The Book Thief by Markus Muzak. I’ve owned this book for a long time, and started reading it once before, but didn’t get too far. I do not like the narrator: Death. I find his comments extremely distracting from the story. I loved the characters, but I do not like the way they address each other with insults. It slowed down my appreciation of Rosa, who turned out to be a very compassionate person, but disguised it well behind her gruff exterior. The Book Thief is the third book I’ve read this year that deals with the Holocaust (see #19 and #6 below).

24. The 15-Minute Writer: How to Write Your Book in Only 15 Minutes a Day by Jennifer Blanchard. Review here.

23. You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One) by Jeff Goins. I first read this book two years ago, after I resigned from my teaching job and returned to the writing world. In this short book Goins encourages people who want to be writers to start, and offers beginning writers strategies to keep at it. It’s a worthwhile reread when you need an extra boost.

22. Outlining Your Novel Workbook: Step-by-Step Exercises for Planning Your Best Book by K.M. Weiland. Review here.

20. Totally Tangled by Sandy Steen Bartholomew and 21. Zentangle® untangled: Inspiration and Prompts for Meditative Drawing by Kass Hall. Reviews here.

19. Night by Elie Wiesel. This is the second book I’ve read this year written by a Holocaust survivor. (See #6 below.) Wiesel, a social activist and a professor at Boston University as well as the author of more than forty books, passed away on July 2, 2016. Ashamed that I’d never read any of his work, I bought Night. 

Is it possible to like a book about genocide if you’re also horrified by it? This is a beautifully written book about suffering and giving up hope and not giving up hope. I believe much of the credit for the book’s appeal goes to his wife, Marion, who translated the 2009 edition that I read. 

18. The 4 Hour Workweek, Expanded And Updated: Expanded And Updated, With Over 100 New Pages Of Cutting Edge Content by Timothy Ferriss. Review here

17. Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I bought this book because of this terrific trailer:

Spoiler alert: If you don’t want any more of the plot revealed, scroll down to book #16.

All the clues were there, but I didn’t catch on that this is a YA time-travel book. I thought it was a YA mystery. I probably wouldn’t have read it if I’d realized it was sci-fi. And that would have been a shame, because it’s a great read.

As Jonah and Chip try to make sense of the letters they receive, they discover they have something else in common–something that the FBI knows more about than they do. They don’t know who they can trust as they realize they are in danger.

Found is the first book in Haddix’s The Missing series. I don’t think I’ll buy all the books (there are seven more), but I’m probably going to have to make a trip to the library…

16. Donuts in an Empty Field by Rachel Barnard. I was introduced to this book by an excerpt posted in the Weekend Writing Warriors challenge. I was so intrigued by the bucket list Vanessa found in her father’s study (five years after his death) that I had to buy the book. I read a lot of Young Adult novels, because I’m writing one. (Or, I’m writing a YA novel, because that’s what I like to read.) This is a good one.

I’ve never experienced a traumatic experience, but the flashback “memories” that torment Vanessa seem to me to be accurate depictions of PTSD. Vanessa’s dad rescued a little boy from a burning restaurant, and died of smoke inhalation. Certain situations trigger Vanessa’s attacks, and even though she’s in therapy, she’s not making headway through her grief.

Her best friend, Nichole, tries to help her by encouraging Vanessa to try new things. This strategy partially backfires as Vanessa engages in risky behavior. To make things worse, Ben, the boy she blames for her father’s death, tries to intrude into their social circle. Bearing disfiguring scars from his burns, Ben should elicit sympathy, but instead, he’s shunned.

Barnard successfully portrays the secret lives of teenagers. She deals with uncomfortable topics, such as the shame young people feel about things out of their control, like Nichole’s mother’s hoarding. One aspect that bothers me is that Vanessa’s heart never softens toward Ben until it’s too late. Yet, in real life, everything doesn’t resolve neatly. 

Donuts in an Empty Field was recently released as Book 1 of a series. I am looking forward to finding out what happens to Vanessa in the future.

15. One Year There: One Soldier’s Year in South Korea During 1968 by Robert Holewinski. Review here.

14. Acne, Asthma, and Other Signs You Might Be Half Dragon by Rena Rocford. I don’t want to know how some people in Rocford’s world are born part-dragon, part-unicorn, part-gryphon, or part-troll. Poor Allyson–her heritage has been kept secret from her, but when someone finally clues her in, she discovers her school is full of Kin, who recognize her for what she is. And they are all in peril. 

This YA book has it all–action, humor, fantasy. A delight to read.

13. After Me by Joyce Scarbrough. Review here.

12. The Girl in my Dreams by Logan Byrne. I read an excerpt of this young adult novel on Kindle Scout and recommended it. When it was chosen for publication, I received a free copy.
The first half of the book describes the romance of two high school students (and next-door neighbors). I have to say Theodore treats Annabelle the way I wanted my high school boyfriend to treat me, and I fell in love with him a little. Just when their relationship seems to be just too good to be true, Belle is killed in a car accident along with three other students.
Then the story passes into fantasy, because Theodore continues to see Belle–in his dreams every night.
This is a good story, but not a great story. There is one elephant in the room that is never addressed: who the driver is who caused the accident. The excuse is that the police did not release the name because the driver is a minor; but realistically, the people in the community would know; the kids in the school would know. I even thought I knew, and I was waiting for the shoe to drop, but it didn’t, which left me very unsatisfied.
The story went from beginning to end, with no substantial subplots, so it felt too simple, too shallow. However, Byrne is a promising author, and I hope to read more from him.

11. Little Miss Lovesick by Kitty Bucholtz. Sydney, a Michigan real estate agent, is trying to move on after a painful breakup. Though she’s not looking for romance, she keeps bumping into it, and falling into one disaster after another. Sweet romance with likable protagonists and a truly hatable ex-boyfriend, Little Miss Lovesick is perfect beach reading.

10. Jumpstart Your Creativity: 10 Jolts to Get Creative and Stay Creative by Steven Rowell and Shawn Doyle. I bought this book based on the title, not realizing it is about accessing your creativity in the workplace. Nonetheless, many of the ideas in this book have applications to the artistic process (plus, many artists have paycheck jobs to help pay the bills; it couldn’t hurt to use these ideas at work). Review coming June 21, 2016.

9. Caskets from Costco by Kelly Wilson. When Wilson’s beloved father-in-law passed away, her emotions hit rock bottom. No stranger to depression, her grief was more than she could bear. In this memoir, she explores how counseling helped her come to terms with a painful past, including childhood sexual abuse, two premature births, and a near-death experience. Despite the tragedy she endured, Wilson tells her story with humor, engaging me and holding my interest from first page to last. 

8. Good Poems for Hard Times collected by Garrison Keillor. My favorite collection of poems, I reread this every year or so. Review here.

7. Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland. Chris is a Gifted, destined to travel between two parallel universes. Reluctant to accept his fate, he unwittingly damages both worlds. Can he make things right again? And what will it cost him? Great writing–Weiland creates engaging characters and worlds.

6. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. This book often appears on lists of Most Influential Books. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor. His description of the suffering he witnessed is heartbreaking. However, he discovered that people could face devastating circumstances with dignity if they could find one thing to hold on to: purpose.

5. The Far End of Happy  by Kathryn Craft. Compelling. Based on actual events, a suicide/standoff situation. Intense. Well-written, rings true. The responses of the women who cared for him.

4. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Review here.

3. The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling. Review here.

2. Gateway to Dreams: 3 Simple Steps to Dream Interpretation by Teresa Ward. I am a little disappointed by this book. I bought it because seven of the 11 reviews it had on Amazon gave it 5 stars.

This is not a 5 star book. I’d give it a 3, because it did give me some insight with a novel I’m working on. But it was not very well-written.

The book really doesn’t get started until Chapter 5. The first four chapters could have been condensed into a more cohesive, less rambling introduction.

Also, the second half of the book shamelessly promotes the author’s Dreamscapes® Dream Dictionary app. I had the feeling she mentioned it a hundred times, so I went back through the whole book and counted. It was only eleven times, but it felt like a hundred. Three times would have been plenty to get her message across.

She used some of her examples more than once, too! The organization of her material could have been more precise! The manuscript could have used a couple more go-throughs before publication! Also, the author overuses exclamation points!

  1. by Sue Grafton. I love Sue Grafton! I’ve been reading her Kinsey Millhone mysteries since A is for Alibi. Her characters feel like family. The Xs in the story are of passing significance–the first letter in a character’s last name, a mark on a storage box of documents, the crisscrossing of a trellis. Kinsey solves an art ransom and a serial murder case.

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