My favorite books this year were all by women

Kristen Bell sloth

It’s December, which means soon we’ll have a whole new year of books to look forward to. What’s your favorite book that you read in 2016?

Without a doubt, mine is …

Uprooted

Okay, Uprooted is from 2015, but … sigh. It’s so beautiful. And powerful. And enchanting. It’s the best fantasy literature that I’ve read since Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle (my favorite series). I don’t often encounter genuine page-turners, but this is one of them. GO READ IT PLEASE.

Also, yay for positive female friendships!

I also have to give a big shout-out to Liane Moriarty, who’s my new favorite author that I discovered this year (her books are secretly amazing), and Ava Jae, who’s my new favorite debut author (go read her too, please!).

I finished my Goodreads challenge this year. Did you?

Let’s not be lit snobs

Illuminae

Recently, I borrowed Illuminae from the library and found this note inside: “So cool! But is it literature? Is this the future of novels?”

I promptly took a photo and then crumpled the note into a ball and threw it away.

Because ugh. Who cares about these things? I doubt that authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff were writing the book and thinking to themselves, “Gosh, is this literature? Are we writing literature right now?” and patting themselves on the back.

My fiancée and I rolled our eyes. We started making jokes. We pointed at our cats and said, “So cool! But is this cat? Is this the future of cat?”

The future of cat

The note has a tone of condescension that basically says, “Gee, I see why you like this. Space is nifty, especially to teens like you! But let’s think seriously now. Is this good? Is this actually worth our time?”

Because literature = good and non-literature = bad, obviously.

As for the “future of novels” jab, that’s in reference to Illuminae’s unique format. It’s a story told through emails, interview transcripts, diary entries, Wikipedia articles, etc. These resources 1) make you feel like you’re right there, living through this cataclysmic space event with the survivors, and 2) create the intentional feeling of a historical record. It’s an objective collection of very subjective witness accounts.

So look. Whoever wrote this, I have a message for you: Stop patronizing teens (and oh hey, adults too) for what they want to read. Stop acting like the content and the format is so inferior that you have to question, “Golly, is this going to be our standards for novels now?” because you’re not reading Dickens or Twain or Joyce. No one is worried about this except for you.

I threw your note in the trash as a favor to the readers that matter — the readers who love to read, the teens who read, the adults who read, and who shouldn’t have to feel bad about that no matter what books they choose.

Please don’t be a lit snob.

Awesome book cover Friday: The Land of Decoration

Good morning! This week’s book cover selection is The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen.

The Land of Decoration

Here’s a description:

Judith and her father don’t have much — their house is full of dusty relics, reminders of the mother she’s never known. But Judith sees the world with the clear Eyes of Faith, and where others might see rubbish, Judith sees possibility. Bullied at school, she finds solace in making a model of the Promised Land — little people made from pipe cleaners, a sliver of moon, luminous stars and a mirror sea — a world of wonder that Judith calls The Land of Decoration. Perhaps, she thinks, if she makes it snow indoors (using shaving foam and cotton wool and cellophane) there will be no school on Monday … Sure enough, when Judith opens her curtains the next day, the world beyond her window has turned white. She has performed her first miracle. And that’s when her troubles begin. With its intensely taut storytelling and gorgeous prose, The Land of Decoration is a heartbreaking story of good and evil, belief and doubt. Its author, Grace McCleen, is a blazing new talent in contemporary literature.

What do you think of the cover? Love it? Hate it? Do little girls in floating houses in outer space creep you out? Let me know!

And have a great weekend! While you’re clicking links, check out my first blog post for Electronic Component News (ECN), a science/tech website.

Book clubs: good and bad, virtual and local

book clubs

I miss my college literature classes. Sure, it’s great to read whatever I want instead of following a syllabus (although I’ve swapped that responsibility for reviewing secret assigned books for Kirkus Indie — my lips are sealed on those, sorry!), but I miss opening my mind to new styles, genres, and authors. As consumers, we don’t always do that. We have our preferences because books cost money. Unless you frequent libraries and don’t mind the waiting periods, chances are you stick to books you think are most interesting.

Of course, you might go off a friend’s recommendation, and that’s a good way to expand your reading palette.

girl readingI have to confess two things: I don’t much care for classics (being honest here), and I hate the reality of book clubs. First of all, it’s not that I don’t respect or like the classics — I do, and I studied them in college — but I think a lot of people are tricked into thinking they have to love all of them or that nobody on Earth is allowed to dislike them.

That’s why I have an aversion to book clubs. Everyone wants to read the classics, or they want to read a specific genre, or they don’t give members the choice to pick the selections. Or maybe there are just too many members and not enough turns to go around.

Reading old literature comes with benefits, of course. But I love exploring what’s new — what today’s writers are writing and how they’re making history. We can only conjecture at what life was truly like for people like for people back when, but we know more intimately what life is like for people today, and reading about it (in fiction or nonfiction, which both draw from modern experiences) can help us grow and better understand others and the hardships they face now.

Not to mention, it’s a lot easier to relate to.

I’ve never had a mind for history or math — facts and figures just don’t stick in my head. But I love reading about past cultures, so it’s not that I’m allergic to classics. Now that I’m free from my studies, I’d just rather read contemporary books most of the time.

book club smallThat’s why one of my best friends and I have started our own book club. We might be close, but we have vastly different tastes. I’m terrified she’s going to force me to read a Nicholas Sparks book, but that’s OK because she’s going to have to give the stuff I like a chance, too, in equal amounts. We both get to read exactly what we want, but we have to be willing to expand our repertoire a little.

I can feel a lot more genuine, too, talking about a book that was written in the last few decades while sitting in a coffee shop or bakery than I can pretending to identify with people who faced a lot worse than we’re used to, with a fraction of the conveniences. We can relate to characters, but we can’t say with honesty that we really relate to the times — not in most cases, even if we’re going through similar situations today. The conditions are different, and so is the world.

For those who don’t have local book clubs to join, plenty of online clubs do exist. Sony just launched a virtual book club for Sony Reader users, where they can chat with the author at the end of the month. But the Sony Reader Store picks the books, which doesn’t give members any control over how they spend that chunk of their time (and money). Is this agreeable to you, or should clubs offer more freedom?

Are you part of a book club? What do you think is a good set-up for them so everyone is happy? Do you like classic or contemporary books more, and why? Either is OK! :)

What e-books have you downloaded free of charge?

Plenty of books whose copyrights have expired have entered public domain, so they’re free to download. Project Gutenberg was the first to make these available online, and now many other websites have joined in, offering a variety of formats.

Jacket Copy asked its readers what public domain e-books they’ve downloaded, and the list (see below) provides some great ideas for what to read next. What are your favorites? And what books in general have you found legally online for free? Lots of authors run daily or weekly sales on their books, marking them down in an effort to gain readership. I think it’s a fantastic tactic, one made easier without the costs of print.

“@paperhaus all of Jane Austen

“@paperhaus Cather, Conrad, Defoe, Hardy, Jack, London, Eliot, Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton, Rebecca West, Wilkie Collins. To name just a few.

“Jane Eyre. Apparently 2 print copies weren’t enough. RT @latimesbooks What public domain ebooks have you downloaded to iPad/phone/ereader?

“@paperhaus “Huckleberry Finn,” Sherlock Holmes stories, some Henry James (“Washington Square”)….

“@paperhaus lots of HG Wells, Byington’s Choctaw-english Dictionary, Conan Doyle, 19th C nonfiction where I can find it.

“@latimesbooks I have just read Omnilingual by H Beam Piper thru project Gutenberg

“@paperhaus Complete Shakespeare, Chekhov stories, Bartleby the Scrivener

“@paperhaus I love me some Chekhov short stories. Here’s a good primer: t.co/LTBbadur

“@paperhaus I got Frankenstein, Dracula, and a lot of other classic horror. Dracula was mind blowingly good — I hadn’t read it before.

“@latimesbooks mostly classics and the oddity “Alleged Haunting of B– House” by JP Crichton (probably no relation to Michael)

“Pride & Prejudice on my @nookBN RT @latimesbooks: What public domain ebooks have you downloaded to your iPad/phone/ereader?

“@paperhaus Twain, Dickens, yep, also Sabatini and Haggard, and old epics like Y Gododdin, various Annals.

“@latimesbooks I’ve downloaded too many to list but actually read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Journey to the Interior of the Earth

“@latimesbooks also the Well at the World’s End and Oliver Twist

“@paperhaus Anne of Green Gables and a couple of poetry anthologies.

“@latimesbooks First and favorite public domain ebook I’ve downloaded-Middlemarch. I’ll never tire of this wonderful book.

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop: enter to win a free book! (UPDATED)

This contest is my way of saying thanks for visiting the blog. Regardless of how many times you’ve stopped by before, I hope you’ll decide to make a habit of it.

The lucky winner will receive a copy of the new commemorative edition of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. The classic science fiction children’s book turned fifty this month.

Rules:

  1. Anyone can enter.
  2. All you need is a post office–recognized address anywhere in the world, where you can receive packages.
  3. You do not have to be a follower or become a follower, although if you like my blog I hope you will! You can also follow by email or RSS (see sidebar) and like me on Facebook for more of my writing here and all over the web.
  4. To win, comment and include your email address and (this next part is optional) tell me what your favorite book is and why.
  5. You can enter the giveaway until Wednesday, February 22. I will close the giveaway at midnight EST, early Thursday morning. The winner will be announced in an update of this post.
  6. Note that double or invalid entries will be removed.
  7. I will notify the winner by email. The winner needs to answer my email within three days, or I’ll pick a new winner.

Check out these other great blogs for more giveaways:

  1. Leeswammes
  2. Curiosity Killed The Bookworm
  3. Lit Endeavors (US)
  4. The Book Whisperer
  5. Rikki’s Teleidoscope
  6. 2606 Books and Counting
  7. The Parrish Lantern
  8. Sam Still Reading
  9. Bookworm with a view
  10. Breieninpeking (Dutch readers)
  11. Seaside Book Nook
  12. Elle Lit (US)
  13. Nishita’s Rants and Raves
  14. Tell Me A Story
  15. Living, Learning, and Loving Life (US)
  16. Book’d Out
  17. Uniflame Creates
  18. Withdrawn
  19. An Armchair by the Sea (UK)
  20. bibliosue
  21. Lena Sledge’s Blog (US)
  22. Roof Beam Reader
  23. Misprinted Pages
  24. Mevrouw Kinderboek (Dutch readers)
  25. Under My Apple Tree (US)
  26. Indie Reader Houston
  27. Book Clutter
  28. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (US)
  29. Lizzy’s Literary Life
  30. Sweeping Me
  1. Caribousmom (US)
  2. Minding Spot (US)
  3. Curled Up With a Good Book and a Cup of Tea
  4. The Book Diva’s Reads
  5. The Blue Bookcase
  6. Thinking About Loud!
  7. write meg! (US)
  8. Devouring Texts
  9. Thirty Creative Studio (US)
  10. The Book Stop
  11. Dolce Bellezza (US)
  12. Simple Clockwork
  13. Chocolate and Croissants
  14. The Scarlet Letter (US)
  15. Reflections from the Hinterland (N. America)
  16. De Boekblogger (Europe, Dutch readers)
  17. Readerbuzz (US)
  18. Must Read Faster (N. America)
  19. Burgandy Ice @ Colorimetry
  20. carolinareti
  21. Withdrawn
  22. Ephemeral Digest
  23. Scattered Figments (UK)
  24. Bibliophile By the Sea
  25. The Blog of Litwits (US)
  26. Kate Austin
  27. Alice Anderson (US)
  28. Always Cooking up Something

UPDATE: Thanks to all who entered! The giveaway was a success, and I was pleased to see so many new people on the blog. I hope you all decide to stick around.

Now for the winner! The lucky lady whose name was picked from a hat is Stephanie Ward, who left this comment:

“My favorite children’s book is A Wrinkle in Time!! I about freaked when I saw your giveaway! It had a huge impact on me – it’s the book that made me into such a bibliophile!! I don’t have a copy and winning the anniversary edition would be so wonderful! Thanks for the giveaway!”

Glad to give a fellow book lover a little joy. Stephanie, you’ll receive an email from me shortly. Please respond before Sunday! Thanks!

Everyone else, please let me know if you’d like to see more giveaways here in the future by leaving a comment on my Facebook page.

My first blog award!

Thank you so much to Amy Marie, who runs a wonderful and very helpful writing blog called The Literary Mom, for giving me the Liebster Blog Award! As someone who greatly enjoys writing and building relationships with readers and fellow bloggers, this is an honor, and one that I deeply value. So thank you again, Amy! :D

The Liebster Award (as stated on Amy’s page):

The guidelines for the Liebster Blog Award are:

  • Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
  • Reveal your top 5 picks for the award and let them know by leaving them a comment on their blog.
  • Post the award on your blog.
  • Bask in the love from the most supportive people on the blogsphere – other bloggers.
  • Most of all – have fun and spread the karma.

I’m extremely excited about the chance to point out some of my favorite blogs! If Amy hadn’t just received the award, I would definitely nominate her. (PS: She’s also critiquing the first twenty or so pages of my novel, so she’s twice as awesome.) Anyway, be sure to follow her and these other amazing bloggers:

1. Sarah’s Place: Embracing life in the northern lattitudes – No other blogger has welcomed me to the WordPress.com blogosphere quite like Sarah, and for that I owe her a great deal of thanks and appreciation. Not only that, but her blog is fantastic! She has (in my humble opinion) one of the best cooking sites on the net. I’m pretty picky about recipes—they can’t involve an excess of rare, needless ingredients or be too difficult to make—but Sarah consistently provides ones (complete with personality and great step-by-step pictures) that are easy to understand and make and look absolutely delicious. Keep up the great work, Sarah. No pressure or anything. Just keep being you! :)

2. Yo Mama: ‘Cause there ain’t no yo daddy jokes – My favorite women’s advocate and gender blogger who—brownie points for her—also has me listed on her blogroll (she’s also listed in mine, see the sidebar). She’s one of the smartest and most talented bloggers around.

(FYI, I’m totally open to blogroll exchanges, if anyone’s ever interested. Just send an email to wita [dot] blog [at] gmail [dot] com.)

3. The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say “Shhh” – Oh my goodness, I could say oodles about how wonderful Miss Anderson is. She has one of the most fun book blogs out there, and she adds layers (I’m talking Shrek layers, like an onion, only more awesome) of personality and charm to everything she writes. Plus, she doles out letter grades to the books she reads. Nice!

4. Sometimes Bailey: A non-fiction writer’s blog about making a literary life while balancing work and family – I haven’t pinned down Veronica yet—her blog entries are always refreshingly varied in my feed. Her posts about literature, life, and writing are always a pleasure to read.

5. Kristen Lamb’s Blog – Kristen is an author and a social media and publishing whiz, and her posts constantly brim with wise and insightful advice. Check it out!

Announcement: participating in the Literary Giveaway Blog Hop

By now you’ve probably noticed that pinkish-purplish button in my sidebar. I wanted to thank the readers of my blog by participating in the fourth Literary Giveaway Blog Hop, hosted by blogger Leeswammes.

The Literary Giveaway Blog Hop is an event taking place from Saturday, February 18 until (and including) Wednesday, February 22. Please stop by and enter my official contest between those dates! I’ll be announcing the giveaway book then. Good luck! :)

Here’s a clue: This author of this book struggled for two years to secure a publisher, and upon landing a deal, the book was not expected to sell. The author blames the trouble on the gender of the protagonist, which was contrary to what was expected of the genre at the time.

Fun trivia: The character Sawyer from the television show Lost read this book while stranded on the island.

Eleven unique ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day

I have a special gripe with Valentine’s Day: Everybody has to express their disgust with it. Believe me, I understand why so many people hate it. I used to be single, too, and for many it’s a painful reminder of a fruitless search for that “special someone.” It’s also an overblown Hallmark extravaganza (but then again, so is Mother’s and Father’s Day) that leads to a lot of mushy rom-coms and diamond ring commercials. But you know what, Christmas is commercial, too, and who doesn’t love Christmas? Scrooges, that’s who.

Okay, there are valid reasons for not liking Valentine’s Day. It can put a lot of pressure on couples to be perfect and extraordinarily romantic—like, of superhero proportions. But some couples prefer to simply crack open a bottle of wine and spend the evening watching their favorite movies.

I just want to enjoy my holiday in peace without having to hear people whine about it. That just spoils all the fun for those of us who like it. Valentine’s Day is about more than cards and chocolates and long-stemmed roses. It’s about taking the extra time to do something special for your sweetie (though you should be doing that all year round)—or the people you love. Elementary school taught us you can have more than one Valentine, after all.

So here are ten ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your better half—or your own wonderful self.

1. Read a book! Big surprise here, huh? There’s lots to choose from—from the romance section to young adult to holiday specials like Love Monster by Rachel Bright. Comics are always a good pick, too. I really enjoyed the NEW MUTANTS #37 Valentine’s Day special this year.

2. Learn about the history. Fact or fiction: People in France and England believed that February 14 was the beginning of mating season for birds, making the day a perfect one for romance? Take a quiz on Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world.

3. Write a love letter. The official National Card and Letter Writing Month isn’t until April, but some are starting the challenge early. February has been declared a month of letters. Not much of a writer? Send a free, classy digital card (much nicer than many e-cards, in my opinion) instead.

4. Play a video game. Twisted Metal (for PlayStation 3) is hitting retailers today, on Valentine’s Day. If you and your snuggle-poo like to play video games together, nothing says love quite like killer clowns and Rob Zombie. You can also get a four-game indie bundle of various PC titles for ridiculously cheap.

5. Make arts and crafts—they’re not just for kids, you know. Check out cool ideas at the Better Homes and Gardens website (like a case wrap for beer or caffeinated drinks, an “I Love You” library card and journal, and 34 other snazzy gifts). The Martha Stewart website has 48 other suggestions, like heart-shaped pot holders and lacy votive candle holders.

6. Concoct and bake your own super candy bar. Blogger Erica at Erica Takes Over the World will show you how.

7. Review ten of the greatest kisses in literature. Perfect for living vicariously.

8. Learn about the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia, which among other mementos features a smashed garden gnome that was hurled at a car during an angry breakup.

9. Watch twenty-five Valentine’s Day movies for twenty-five different relationship stages. This one made me giggle: “You love Nicolas Cage no matter what anyone says: Moonstruck.”

10. Cut costs with a romantic dinner at your favorite fast food chain, with restaurants like White Castle, Waffle House, Chick-fil-A, and more participating.

11. Take Valentine’s Day less seriously with these disgruntled quotes by famous comedians. Why not?

Happy 200th birthday, Charles Dickens!

Google and the book world are celebrating Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday today. Why not honor the literary great by reading one of his classics? He’s written fiction, non-fiction, short stories, and even a play (No Thoroughfare, a collaboration with detective novelist Wilkie Collins). And hey, many of them are free for Kindle (and priced low for Nook)!

English Victorian author Charles John Huffman Dickens lived from 1812–1870 and was born on February 7 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (now the Dickens Birthplace Museum). Often considered a spokesman for the poor, Dickens is famously remembered for his characters and his contemporary depictions of social classes, mores, and values. Critic and author Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who wrote several introductions for the author, described him as “the voice in England of this humane intoxication and expansion, this encouraging of anybody to be anything.”

His first book, a collection of stories, was titled Sketches by Boz (“Boz” was his pseudonym) and published in 1836. He and his wife Catherine Hogarth welcomed ten children to the family—that’s ten little Dickens running around. Charles was busy at the desk and in the bedroom.

He later left Catherine for actress Ellen Ternan, whom he met while performing in Collins’ The Frozen Deep. “The good, the gentle, high-gifted, ever-friendly, noble Dickens—every inch of him an honest man,” the Scottish historian and author Thomas Carlyle called him upon hearing of Dickens’ passing—but not so much for the marriage bonds.

For a full bibliography of Dickens’ works and a biography of the author, visit The Literature Network.

Cassie at the blog Books and Bowel Movements shared a link to an article about how college students who grew up reading Harry Potter are more prepared for classic literature, especially works by Dickens.

Blogger Caorthine wished Dickens a happy birthday today, too. And Literary Wonderland sent him a birthday letter.

Love Dickens? Feel free to drop a link to your happy birthday post or share a memory of reading his books in the comments.