Category Archives: books

Year in Review – Including Best Books of 2015

2015 was incredible. In the garden, we took down two old rotten sheds, paved a long section of pathway through the garden, and built a duck coop for our new animal additions, and built a greenhouse.

Outside of the garden, I took the trip I’ve been dreaming of for half my life to Iceland, Great Britain, and Venice.

I would have also published my first book, but I decided to delay it until I finished all three in the trilogy, and release them at the same time. So basically, I wrote three books in 2015. A little more tweaking, and they’ll be ready to go out in Spring, I think.

Additionally, this was the year of me being the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Seriously, I loved being 42.

And of course, I read a ton of books in 2015. I made my yearly goal of 150, just barely – hey, I didn’t read at all during my month abroad! I ended up with a total of 152.

Out of those, here are my favorites, beginning with nonfiction.

1: Real Food for Rabbits, by Laura Wheeler

rabbitsI talked about this one in my last post. But basically, it’s a fabulous book for people with either pet or meat rabbits, who want to feed their animals with natural food, not commercial pellets.

2: Book Cover Design Secrets, by Derek Murphy

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Sometimes a particular book comes to you at the exact moment you need it. This is one of those books. It’s absolutely brilliant – Derek tells it like it is, often going against the commonly believed and published “truth” about cover design. If you’re an Indie writer, this book MUST be on your bookshelf. I borrowed it through Kindle Unlimited, and then immediately went and purchased a copy – it’s that good!

3: The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend

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Really good explanation of what I’m trying to do on my little farm, and why I’m doing it.

4: The Nourishing Homestead, by Ben Hewitt

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Yes. Just read this. He has a few things wrong (I disagree completely with his views on wheat, for instance) but the majority is so, so right.

5: My Garden, the City, and Me, by Helen Babbs

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Wonderfully written, interesting little book about gardening on a rooftop in London.

6: Grow a Little Fruit Tree, by Ann Ralph

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This book should be required reading for any backyard gardener with an interest in fruit trees. Wow – so much helpful info! Everything you think you know about planting, pruning, and growing fruit trees is wrong…read this book and find out why. It will completely change your gardening game plan.

7: Adventures in Yarn Farming, by Barbara Perry

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I admit it; I’m fascinated by sheep and shepherds. I would love to own sheep, but I can’t quite figure out how to fit them in my backyard farm…plus they are just ever so slightly illegal where I live. So I read these books and dream of the day I can move to the country and have my own flock. Icelandic sheep, definitely, after experiencing the wonder of those sheep in their home country!

I’ve been reading far more non-fiction than I used to, and it’s heavily weighted in favor of practical books relating to homesteading, gardening, or animals. But I also still read tons of fiction.

8: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

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So good. I can’t even…it’s just so good. I love how Hobb ties everything together in this one, all of her various series just fitting together seamlessly. Book one of this particular series made my Best Books list last year, and I expect she’ll make the list next year, too.  My favorite series of hers, although to really get the most pleasure out of it, you really should read her others, first.

9: Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis

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So charming and fun. It was a delight to read, and after I finished, I immediately downloaded the rest of the series. There were equally good.

10: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne Valente

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Valente’s writing is SO yummy. It’s old-fashioned and modern and hip and nostalgic and you can’t skip even a single word. No one writes like Valente; she’s just incredible.

11: The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud

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This book deserves way more than five stars. Take all the stars! Honestly I am just blown away by how good this series is, and this book in particular. Every one I know needs to read this book right now!

12: Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

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I’ve been a fan of Novik’s dragon series for a long time now, so when I first heard this was coming out, I was a tad disappointed. What, no dragons? No Napoleonic War? No men who (a tad disconcertingly) call their dragon ‘dear’?  But yowza. I was blown away by this. It’s head and shoulders above her dragon series. It’s truly the best fantasy I’ve read for ages.

 

Okay, it was super hard this year to pick an over-all favorite, because numbers 11 and 12 were SO incredible.  But I’m going to give the title to:

13: Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E. Stevenson

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This isn’t the most amazing, life-changing book in my list. It’s not even the best written. But it is a book that I hugged to my chest when I was done reading, because I grew so intensely fond of it. It made me happy, and once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I stayed up way too late, and skipped watching two of my favorite tv shows for this book. And the sequels are great, too – I think I may even like the second book a triffle more.

And there you have it: 2015 was a year of glory. But I have a feeling 2016 is going to be pretty spectacular too….

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

So normally I save up my favorite books for a blog post at the end of the year.  I’m breaking that tradition in order to tell you about this fantastic book I just finished.

It’s brilliant, people.  If you’ve ever had an interest in growing fruit trees – lots of fruit trees – in your yard, but never thought you had enough room, this is the book you need.

book33I pre-ordered this on a whim, and it was delivered to my kindle last night, around bedtime.  I started reading it…and let’s just say I was late getting to bed.  I couldn’t put it down.

Everything you ever learned about growing and pruning fruit trees is wrong – and everything she says makes so much sense.

Totally going to get a peach tree this year…and a cherry…and a plum…oh yeah.  I love my espaliered pears and apples, but stone fruit don’t work well as espaliered trees (unless you fan-shape them, which I don’t care for, AND I’m running out of good espalier garden spots.)  I’m so excited to give this a try!

Best Books of 2014

I read 155 books this year – although I joined Kindle Unlimited, which put me in a feeding frenzy of very short and very niche books, most of which I didn’t bother listing or rating unless they particularly struck me.  Here, however, is the roundup of my very favorites, counting down to the Book of the Year.

#12: Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too: The Modern Step-by-Step Guide to Preserving Food by Daniel Gasteiger

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After checking out a ton of books on canning from the library, this one quickly became my go-to reference. I bought a copy immediately.

#11: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

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So good.  One of the best that Hobb has ever written.

#10:  Traveling With Your Octopus, by Brian Kesinger

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I love Brian Kesinger; not only is a supremely talented artist, he is an all-around wonderful guy.  When I received my autographed copy, I couldn’t resist posting a picture and comment on his facebook:

With tremendous delight, I received my copy of “Traveling With Your Octopus” today. My own cephalopod, Oswin, is particularly anxious to pick up some tips for our own upcoming travels together. I believe he will be expecially intrigued (or perhaps concerned?) by the page on Egypt, as that is one of our destinations! Perhaps I should not allow him to read it at bedtime?

He confirmed, as expected, that is not wise to upset cephalopods at bedtime!

#9: Urban Farm Handbook, by Annette Cottrell

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Packed with helpful information specific to my part of the US.  Tons and tons of photographs.

#8: The Weekend Homesteader, by Anna Hess

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Really enjoyed this book. Great tone, and the projects were nearly all things I am either trying to do, or at least thinking about doing. Her section on growing mushrooms made me realize I absolutely need to add that one to the list!

#7: Leave Me Alone: The Introvert’s Guide to Travel, by Wya Soquiet

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Okay, this was fabulous. Way, way too short (it’s more of an essay than a book) but YES. This is my kind of travel book.Here’s the line that hooked me:

“Ahhh…travel. It’s an opportunity to expand your horizons, to see beautiful locals, to explore exotic cultures. You WILL make new friends! You WILL have encounters with the locals – right in their natural habitat! With any luck, you may even get invited home to dinner.

“If that last sentence makes you break out in hives, this guide might be for you.”

Hee. Finally an antidote to all those solo travel guides that assume everyone is an extrovert and WANTS to hang out with strangers every chance they get! Finally a guide that understands we introverts travel too…but we’re looking for a different kind of experience!

Only a few actual tips, but it’s hilarious, and so true.

#6: The Long Haul, by Jeff Kinney

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This is probably the best one since the first. Twice, I had to stop reading, I was laughing so hard.

#5: The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon

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A beautifully written, spine-tingling tale. Definitely will be seeking out more books by this author!

#4: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

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I honestly can’t believe this book is packaged as a middle school novel. It must be because publishers stupidly believe that people only want to read books about people their own age. Sure, the protagonists in this book are children, but the writing, language, plot, and world-building are AT LEAST on the level of a YA novel, and I would personally put on an adult level. It’s fantastic. Atmospheric, creepy, and genuinely frightening, and set in a brilliantly fascinating world. I can’t wait for the next one!

#3: Mrs Queen Takes the Train, by William Kuhn

book11So much fun. Kuhn clearly understands the royal family. He includes so many small, wonderful details, and really has a grasp on how The Queen might feel.

The only part I did not like was the “love affair” between Rebecca and Rajiv. The author seems to have no idea at all how to convincingly write chemistry between men and women. Every word Rajiv says to Rebecca is either creepy, icky, or awkward…and it makes zero sense that she would respond at all positively. The sections with the two of them were just…bad. I kept thinking she’d whack him over the head and escape, because any sensible real-life girl would surely come to the conclusion that he’s not at all dating material, and quite possibly a serial killer.

That said, the rest was quite brilliantly wonderful, and I’d love to see more fiction from this author. Just not love stories.

#2: Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Steifvater

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I could rave on and on about Maggie Stiefvater’s grasp of language and style for twenty pages. Her writing is just so beautiful that I find myself re-reading little bits continually. She just wraps her world around me and makes me feel everything. If I had to name just four modern masters of fantasy, Stiefvater would be one of them. I love this series so much that I even though I was eagerly counting down the days until Blue Lily’s release, I couldn’t make myself start reading it for several weeks after it came out. It just sat on my kindle, giving me little tingles of anticipation every time I saw it in my library. You can never repeat that first experience of reading a brilliant book for the first time, and I really didn’t want that first read to ever be over.

And finally, my favorite book I read in 2014!

Peggy, by Anna Walker

book12A children’s picture book, gorgeously illustrated and so cute and funny. Clearly the author knows her chickens, because Peggy is a very “chickeny” chicken. If a chicken could take a train to the city, this is exactly how she’d behave!  I love every inch of the illustrations, and every word is perfect. 

Best Books of 2013

Time for the annual list. This year, I read 162 books, and as always, it was fun to look back through them and choose my favorites.  Other than saving the very best for the end, they are in no particular order.

1) The Thinking Beekeeper, by Christy Hemenway.

510Ikh3JYAL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-41,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I am very seriously planning to become a beekeeper within the next couple of years, so I have been reading a ton of books and other information on keeping bees.  This one is fantastic; Christy tells you how to keep bees the natural way, working with the bees by allowing them to manage their hive according to their own wisdom.  Bees know how to be bees, just like quail know how to be quail.

2) Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh.

51g-qVtJyoL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Allie is quite possibly the funniest woman alive.  And she is also incredibly honest, and I now understand all sorts of things about depression that I never understood before.

3) The Outfit, by Richard Stark.

41Wp+qHo7AL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-65,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Richard Stark writes pure, brutal poetry.  I savor his writing.

4) Boot and Shoe, by Marla Frazee.

41H7jOzCkLL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-31,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_It’s pretty rare that a children’s picture book makes my Best Of list, but this is a pretty rare children’s book.  Every bit of it, from the illustrations to the words to the emotions, is perfection.

5) Wool, by Hugh Howey.

61lrCdT5rGL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-66,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I stumbled across this one as a free Kindle chapter on Amazon, and I’m glad I took the chance.  This guy is an amazing writer; you think you know exactly where he’s going…and then he slams you into the ground and stomps on your brain.  In all the best ways, of course.  I love authors who can do that to me.  The two sequels, Shift and Dust, also got five stars from me.

6) Poison, by Chris Wooding.

51iOjrE3W1L._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_This one gets a little more meta than I’d like, and I’d probably not have included it on this list if it didn’t also possess the best creepy scene I’ve possibly ever read.  Seriously.  I’d have given it five stars and put it on this list if that scene were the entirety of the book.  It’s that good.

7) The Quarter Acre Farm, by Spring Warren.

61T9Vehyy5L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA318_PIkin4,BottomRight,-18,16_AA300_SH20_OU01_Inspiring book on having it all…in your backyard.  I got so many ideas and schemes from this book!

8) The Food Lover’s Garden, by Mark Diacono.

51PuCajR0dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Another completely inspirational book…this one will make you seek out all the fruits and vegetables you’ve maybe never heard of – but have been missing out on.  I now have a kiwi, a gooseberry and a chilean guava planted in my garden, thanks to this book.

9) The Sleep Thieves, by Stanley Coren.

41AIaf0+MuL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-67,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_A non-fiction that might possibly save your life.  Or at least, change it for the better.  Eye-opening and fascinating.

10) Once Upon a Flock, by Lauren Scheuer.

51WMgo-LiAL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-62,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_So charming, and the illustrations are marvelous.  Totally hit me in the heart…right where my own chickens live. This one probably would have been my pick for Best Non-Fiction Book, if I wouldn’t have read the below:

11) What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, by Jonathan V. Last.

51pUnS9Fz-L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Maybe you believe that “fact” that we’re in a population explosion, and we’re all going to run out of room and omg die if we don’t control our breeding…well, if so…you need to read this and get a dose of the truth.  That story about population explosion?  It’s been proven to be false.  Proven.  Yet people still believe it, when in fact the opposite is true.

We are all going to be in some serious trouble if families don’t start making more babies. In other places besides the US, they are well aware of this. In German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, the government is actually re-training prostitutes to care for their elderly. Russia is basically committing national suicide – consider this: in addition to all the other factors affecting their population, they have 30% more abortions than births. This is…horrifying. Holocaust-level horrifying. Japan is doing so badly, population-wise, that the government is invoking increasingly more and more desperate measures to try to convince their citizens to reproduce before it’s too late. Even India is barely producing above replacement levels. (This I looked up myself, as it isn’t in the book.) And that level is dropping rapidly, not rising.

It’s a good thing I already know that humanity is not going to go extinct, or I’d be seriously worried after reading this book. Crazy, how we’re spoon-fed “information” (like population explosion) that is the exact opposite of the truth, and people just swallow it down. Maybe this book will open a few eyes.

Also appreciate that in the end, he gives some solid answers on how to improve matters. I particularly loved the section on colleges – so great!

This is my pick for my Best Non-Fiction Book of 2013.

And my Best Fiction Book of 2013?

12) Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater.

51KjJ3da-hL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-60,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_If you read my Best Books list for last year, you’re going ‘Wait, what? Wasn’t this your Best Book for 2012, too?

Why yes.  Why yes it was.  I loved it so much that I re-read a couple of months ago, and if anything, I thought it was even better.  I mean seriously…this author.  She writes so gorgeously, and she just tells you things, and you don’t believe her – until she absolutely stuns you with a massive plot twist you never saw coming.  Even though she straight-out told you.  That takes major writing balls, my friends.

I wasn’t going to make it my Best Book again, but then I thought: The Raven Boys deserves it.  I’m not sure I’ve been so completely blown away by a book since the first time I read Tolkien.

The Desolation of Smaug

I just got home from watching the second part of the Hobbit.  And there are a couple of things I’d like to say about it (and I will talk spoilers, so don’t read on if you don’t want them.)

First of all, I like that Jackson split the book into three parts.  I like that he’s adding in all the extra action from Tolkien’s appendices.  I don’t even mind the entirely new things Jackson has added out of his own head.

But.

But.

I do object to Tauriel.  Why, Jackson, why?  I think it’s ridiculous when people complain that the characters in a book or film are all male.  Not every thing needs to have female characters.  In real life, there have been adventures where the genders are not equally mixed, so why the heck is it such a problem in fiction?  Writers should be able to have whatever characters they want in their own works.  For whatever reason.  I grew up reading the sorts of books that didn’t have a lot of females in them.  It never made me feel in any way inferior.  When I reenacted scenes from my favorite films and books, I just put myself in whichever role I fancied; didn’t matter if it was boy or girl.  So don’t be jamming girl elves in just for the sake of having a girl.

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And if you do put in a girl elf, just make her a cool kickass character, please?  I hated – hated – the whole elf/dwarf/elf love triangle Jackson is brewing.  Really?  I can understand Kili getting a bit star-struck at seeing Tauriel (elves are seductive creatures, and it’s maybe his first time), but would an elven woman really be equally star-struck at seeing a dwarf?  Just because he’s the cute one, and “not as short as other dwarves”?  And a scene later, she’s all swoony over Legolas maybe liking her, and then crushed that Legolas’ dad doesn’t find her worthy of his son, then back to drooling over the not-so-short dwarf again.

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Bah.  I hate love triangles at the best of times, but particularly when they are absurd.

I do want Tauriel’s clothes, though.  So there’s that.

Overall I’m just a little disappointed by this installment of the Hobbit..  Even the first one, though great, couldn’t quite live up to the wondrous splendor of LOTR – and besides the Dreaded Love Triangle, this second part also had too much of a good thing.  By which I mean: too much Smaug.  Those scenes under the mountain went on forever.  I get that Jackson needed something climatic, but golly.  Tolkien’s way was so much better.

Still, though, it was good.  I liked it.  I just wish I could have loved it.

Steampunk Ladies Who Hunt Monsters

I’ve been secretly working on an exciting new project, and now is the time to reveal it to all of you.  You all know I’m into writing, steampunk, costumes, and monsters, right?  Well, I’m putting all those things together and creating a book.

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It’s a full novel, about a female steampunk monster hunter named Philomena Dashwood.  She travels the globe in search of exotic monsters, romance, and that perfect little pair of goggles.   My partner-in-crime and I are calling it “Jane Austin meets Scooby Doo” because it is such a perfect mix of humor and manners, mingled with some very real scares.  It will be illustrated with photographs taken by Tyson Vick, and he and I are creating over 80 costumes for the models and actors to wear.

The first chapter is up on our website, and I’d love to hear what you guys think!

AND, I need your help.  We need pay models, fund travel costs to photoshoot locations, and buy fabric for all those costumes, so we’ve put up a kickstarter.  You can find it here, and we have some pretty good incentives to donate to the project.

If you’re going to be at Steamcon this year, come and find me – I’ll have special ribbons and postcards to hand out, AND I’ll be modeling one of the costumes that will be featured in the book: The Steampunk Mummy.

Best Books of 2012

I just barely made my annual goal of reading 150 books; this year the book-reading machine was derailed by spending lots of time poking around in guidebooks to Egypt, Jordan, and England.  I did not count most of those books in my reading totals.

But here’s my list of the Best of the Best of those 150 that I read.  In sort-of descending order…meaning that I save the best three for last.

1) Going Bovine by Libba Bray

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I find so many of my very favorite books by reading books my friends hate.  Why is that?  Do we really have such opposing tastes?  But I honestly don’t see how anyone could hate this book. It’s a smart, clever, snarky real-life fantasy with heart and social commentary and brilliance all wrapped up with yard gnomes and mad cows.

2) Surviving Survival by Laurence Gonzales

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I’m reading a lot more non-fiction that I used to, which is excellent.   This one is completely fascinating. And if anything horrible has happened to destroy your life, this book might actually bring you genuine help and relief.

3) Lost on Planet China by J. Maarten Troost

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Now this is the kind of travel book I like, one that doesn’t feel it has to sugar-coat anything. I couldn’t put it down! And I kept reading bits of it aloud to anyone who happened to be in the room with me, which is a sure sign I’ve found a truly fascinating book.

That said, if you’re planning a trip to China, this book just might change your mind. I’ve never really felt much desire to visit China in person, and now? I’ve *definitely* absolutely crossed it off my list of to-go places in the world. Just the pollution alone…GAH. I’m not sure the Chinese are going to live long enough to become the next Superpower in the world.

4) The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente

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Absolutely brilliant language, characters, and storytelling. If this book has a flaw, it’s that the language is *so* lovely and perfect, that I found it difficult to be sucked into the story at first. I just kept reading every single sentence over again and examining it like I would a jewel.  It’s technically a ‘children’s book’, but if you’re the sort of person who shuns reading a book because it’s shelved in the children’s area, then shame, shame, shame on you.

5) Breasts by Florence Williams

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I was introduced to this book when a particular skeevy guy handed it over the library front desk to me…with a particularly skeevy smile. I started flipping through it, and while I imagine the skeevy guy was quite disappointed by it, I was captivated.  Fascinating, educational, and you (yes YOU!) have to read it if you own a pair of breasts – and especially if you ever plan on having children. The chapter on breast milk blew my mind, and I now believe breast milk to be one of the most amazing things on the planet.

6) White People by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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Such a lovely story on the fear of death, and why that fear shouldn’t exist.

7) Stay Awake by Dan Chaon

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I was SO HAPPY when I saw this book on my to-be-processed cart at my library. Dan Chaon is an absolute master (and my personal favorite) in the short story genre. His language is like poetry – and in this collection, numerous times it literally does slip into poetry, in the most natural way possible. I find myself re-reading sections: the first and second time because they were so beautiful, and then again because I want to discover how he did that…right there. That perfect bit of writing.

My story favorite is definitely the last: “The Farm. The Gold. The Lily-White Hands.” Haunting. I think it’s now on my list of the five best short stories ever written.

8) The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

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So good, and so well done. It’s really quite impossible to put this book down.  I loved the interweaving of the the past and the present.  It’s a perfect example of how to do that style of writing.

9) Meditations on Violence by Rory Miller

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This book is not about the martial arts, or at least the majority of the book is not. The book is actually about how to prepare yourself to survive violence of any kind, and the reasons why you might, or might not. Fascinating, because Miller lives with extreme violence as a daily event, and knows of what he speaks. I particularly appreciate that his emphasis is on avoidance; his belief is that although there are times when violence is unavoidable, for most ‘ordinary’ people, it IS avoidable, simply by the decisions we make, daily. But we can’t make the right decisions if we don’t understand what we’re doing, and that’s where this book could become a life-changer.

Highly, highly recommended to everyone, women and men. Especially if you think you don’t need a book like this!

10) Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller

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I have several characters in my head that are professional criminals. I’ve always been pretty sure I know what their mindset is, but I was excited to read this book, because if I was wrong, I knew I could trust the author to shatter my illusions. (Rory Miller is the Real Deal.)

It turns out I actually do have a handle on real violence and the criminal mind! What Miller says in this book is nearly exactly what I already believed to be true, so yay me and my fictional fiends.

And then he adds on brilliant information on what exactly being tasered is like, what different types of bullets do to the human body, and where and how to strike if you want to cause someone the most pain and/or incapacitate them the fastest. And much, much more. Valuable knowledge, this.

And I love how he cuts through the politically-correct BS, and talks about the difference between men and women when it comes to violence, and how female police officers SHOULD be trained, as opposed to male officers. And when it came to women protecting themselves by avoiding dangerous situations, I wanted to stand up and applaud:

“When I tell someone that the most important thing a young woman can do to avoid being raped is to avoid places with lots of young men (and if you absolutely have to go to those place, don’t drink) the dumb responses range from: ‘Girls have a right to have fun’ to ‘You’re just blaming the victim’ all the way up to the ludicrous, ‘A woman should be able to walk naked into a biker bar and not be bothered.’ These are political ideals. They might even be the way the world should work. They are not the way the world actually works. The responsibility for self-protection has to rest with the potential victim because the potential rapist has no interest whatsoever in her safety or rights. The potential victim is the one who cares.”

11) The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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This is The Best Book I read in 2012.  Sometimes, when you read a book, it’s so different from the inside of your own head that it feels prickly, or cruel, or too big inside you. Sometimes, you love a book for just those reasons, for the differences between you. Sometimes, you read a book like that over and over and over again, until it alters the actual shape of your brain. And then you say: This book changed my life. And you love it for the rest of your life.

And sometimes, a book just is you. From the first moment you begin reading, it’s already the most perfect size and shape. The Raven Boys is that kind of book for me. It just feels so comfortable; it’s something I could have written myself, the language, the humor – it’s all so perfectly me. These characters…wow. I never even really cared about the plot, I wasn’t reading because I needed to know what the ending was, I just wanted to be here, spending time with these people. They fit me.

 

Do you have a favorite book you read this year?  I’m always looking for suggestions!  🙂

The Hobbit

I really, really like what Peter Jackson is doing with the Hobbit film trilogy.  The Hobbit has always been one of my favorite books in the world (arguably THE favorite.)  I have read it a million times, and will never stop re-reading it.  It makes me happy, just by its simple existence in the world.

Peter Jackson’s film in not the same as the book.  Its child-like whimsey is lessened, in favor of bringing in a more adult understanding of Middle Earth, and this adventure’s ultimate impact on future events.  This is not a bad thing, and Jackson did keep much of the flavor of the book.  But in leaving out some of the simpler and sillier happenings, he added so much more.  It’s as though I grew up being told a bedtime story by a beloved uncle, and now that uncle has sat me down, in the clear cold light of day, and said: Now here’s the things I didn’t tell you before.  Here is why it happened, and exactly how, and the reason I didn’t tell you before is because I wanted you to feel safe and happy and not be concerned with the Things That Are Dark, and the Things That Are Coming.  I wanted you to laugh, and not to cry.

Even when I was a kid reading the Hobbit, it felt like I was being told only half of the story, the safe part.  And I’m delighted that Jackson has decided that we are all adults now, and he can tell us everything.  And almost all every scrap of it came from Tolkien’s own writings.

Tolkien meant to tell us THIS story.  He originally planned to re-write the Hobbit, and make it much less a children’s story, and much more what it is: the first book of The Lord of the Rings saga.  I think Tolkien would be very pleased with what Jackson has done.

So, it case you can’t tell from the above, I went to see the Hobbit yesterday, and I loved it.  I actually teared up at the very beginning, just because it was so very lovely to be back in Middle Earth.   Warning: I will now talk about what happens in the film.  So if you don’t wish to be spoiled, don’t read any further!

As always, I love the look of the Shire, and Bag End.  It is so perfectly done.

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This, right here, is something like what my home in Heaven will look like. I am certain of that.  It pulls to me with every fiber of my being!  I am a hobbit, really.  I love the elves, and the elven clothing, art, and designs, but I would not be happy living as an elf.

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I loved, loved, that they began the Hobbit almost exactly where they began The Fellowship of the Ring – almost to the moment.  Jackson, you are a brilliant man, and it’s obvious you love these books as much as I do.  It’s obvious you are making three films because you love them, and not because you want to make money off the fans.  (Shame on you, Patrick Rothfuss, for saying Jackson ‘crapped on your childhood’ by making this film – even though you haven’t seen it, and thus know nothing of what you rant.  The Hobbit is not “your” exclusive childhood.  It is my childhood, it is Jackson’s childhood, and belongs to everyone who loves it.  If you don’t want to see another artist’s representation, then don’t.  But don’t froth at the beard because he made a movie you don’t want to see.  In this, you suck.)  Sorry, back to the film.

Bilbo was brilliantly cast.  Martin Freeman IS Bilbo.

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One place the film actually outshines the book, is with the personalizing of the dwarves.  I am not a fan of dwarves, generally.  The dwarves in the Hobbit book were my least favorite of any of its characters.  I really didn’t care if they regained their ancestral home from Smaug…I just wanted them to succeed because I loved Bilbo.  And Gandalf.  And everyone else.  And part of that is because dwarves have an image problem.  They are generally (in every work of fiction I’ve read or watched) the dumpy, lumpy, semi-stupid, slapstick characters.  And when there are thirteen of them?  Let’s just say…in my umpteenth readings of the Hobbit, I could only remember two of them distinctly: Thorin Oakenshield, and Bombur.  Thorin I always found a bit unlikeable (too arrogant!) and Bombur…well.  Again with the lumpy, dumpy, slapstick!

But now?  Jackson has fleshed them out for me.  I finally understand them, and who they are, and I like them – as people.  I get why Thorin is so prickly and arrogant-seeming.  I think I finally see them how Tolkien saw them.   And I love that Jackson didn’t shy from the lumpy dumpy slapstick (it’s a genuine part of the book) but also didn’t hesitate to show the other side.  Because they did have one, these dwarves.  They were warriors and rulers of men.

It doesn’t hurt that Thorin and Kili are super-hot, either:

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Can it BE that I actually have a crush on dwarves?  Dwarves???

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But my favorite dwarf is Balin, because his heart-to-heart talks with Thorin nearly broke my heart.  So SWEET.

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And the dwarves SING the SONGS.  This is my ultimate proof that Jackson loves this book like I do.  I think any other director in the world, if he were trying to make a ‘serious’ film out of a children’s book, would have left out (at the very least) the “That’s what Bilbo Baggins Hates” song.   But it worked.  It worked brilliantly.

The costuming was great – when it came to the dwarves’ costumes, and that of Radagast .  The whole concept for Radagast was gorgeously done – well, as gorgeous as a costume involving bird poop can look.  🙂  But huzzah the costumers for that one.  It makes me wish a were a beard-y type man, so I could make and wear that costume.  (Perhaps I will, anyway!)  The hobbits were also spot-on, and one of my only disappointments with Part One, is that the lady hobbit costumes I’ve been drooling over online didn’t make an appearance.  I’m absolutely making one of those!  But the elves were lacking the costume-spark.  They were…fine.  But after the close-up magic of the LOTR elvish-wear?  These weren’t nearly good enough.  The elven sets were gorgeous though, especially the place where Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadriel spoke.

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I couldn’t find an image that really showed it well.  The use of water was beyond breathtaking.

But the best part, THE BEST PART was Riddles in the Dark.  I squee just remembering the awesomesauce-ness of that scene.  Wow.  Gollum was exactly what he should be, half heart-breaking, half terrifying.

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I can’t wait for part two.

My Travel Journal Arrived!

All the way from the Philippines.  It’s so awesome.  I love getting things from people in other countries; just the packaging alone is often amazing.  This one, sadly, did not come sewn in a fabric bag (India) or with cool little stamps all over it (Asia).  But it was wrapped very nicely inside:

And Nadja, the lady who made it, wrote a personal note for me:

I’d mentioned what I was intending to use it for, and she remembered.

There was also another envelope with printed information on how the journal was made.

But now…on to the unwrapping of the journal itself:

The first page is embossed with the Alunsina stamp:

The last page has an owl.  I love owls, so this is a lovely surprise!

It’s perfect, it’s gorgeous, and I can’t wait to fill it.  I’ve already decided that the wrappings and Nadja’s letter will be permanent additions.   I’ll also begin writing in it, long before it’s time for my travels.  Things like my plans and hopes for the trip, and as things get finalized, my itinerary.  The first thing I’m going to look for is a few perfect lines of poetry for the first page.

If you’d like an Alunsina journal of your own, you can find their Etsy shop here, as well as many more styles of journals on their facebook page.

Thank you Nadja and Enan!

Travel Journal

I’ve been keeping my eye open for the perfect travel journal for my trip to England/Egypt…and by “keeping my eye open”, I mean spending literally hours online shopping on Etsy, Ebay, and Google.

I thought at first I wanted something specifically Egyptian-looking, but there are very few Egyptian-themed journals out there, and none at all that I liked.  So then I broadened the search.  I knew a few things it had to have:

1) It had to have some sort of buckle or catch to keep it closed.  I’m going to be stuffing all sorts of loose items in there, like ticket stubs, and I don’t want them to easily fall out.  I also don’t like the type that has a thin lace or strip of leather that wraps around to hold it closed.  I used one of those once, and you just can’t lace them tightly enough to keep things secure.  I love the journals that have a built-in elastic band to hold the book closed, but I didn’t want something so modern for this particular journal.

2) I wanted something that looked old-world.  Leather, or wood.

3) I wanted something sturdy, that would hold up to wear and only look better if it gets accidentally distressed.

4) I wanted something totally unique, and something that seemed ‘me’.  If it was sold at Amazon, it probably wasn’t going to cut it – although I did search Amazon as part of my quest.

I found some amazing journals.  Like this one:

It’s made of WOOD, and the pages are 80 year-old reclaimed paper.  I love it.  It’s wonderful.  But ultimately, it’s just too small, and I have questions about how easy it would be to travel with.

This journal was the stand-out front runner for quite awhile.

But alas, no buckle either, and this one is actually a squidge too big.

But then I found this one, on Etsy.  It’s handmade, in the Philippines.  It’s leather, it has buckles, it’s totally different from everything else I was finding.  And, it calls out to me.  It wants to go to Egypt with me.

It fits all of my requirements.  So Reader, I bought it.