Four Really Good Books I Read in 2014

Just in case there aren’t enough “best books of 2014” lists out there for you this time of year, I thought I’d gather just four of my favorites from a year of reading, as well. Because, well, EVERYONE wants to know what I’m reading, right? <sarcasm>

My brief list below is a little weird, though, (no comment necessary) because it contains not only two new books that came out this year, but also “old” ones I picked up again to reread. I think it says a ton if, out of all the books I read in a year, some of the best are ones I’ve read before. Oh, and the reason it’s only four books? Four words: Too busy to live.

Here you go:

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. This book came out in September, and I read it in October. Today, I still think of the main character and wonder what she’s up to. The publisher’s description says: “Imagine The Bell Jar — written by Rizzo from Grease.” I think that’s fairly spot on. The writing is lovely and poignant and provides so much to think about beneath the surface of the story. The storytelling is excellent; one of those rare instances where a character-driven novel, with no real driving plot, makes me can’t wait to turn the page. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young British girl, and I usually have issues with coming-of-age stories where the character’s voice feels far older than than the fictional age. But Moran makes this one work. And work oh so well. I laughed out loud repeatedly, which is always a good sign. (It should definitely have an “R” rating, though, so be ready for some shagging and fagging, as they say in the UK, and a rather overly descriptive scene involving a man named Big Al.)

Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg. This is one of those books — a memoir — that left me breathless about 12 years ago. Spragg’s stories beautifully capture a boyhood spent on a ranch in Wyoming and a deep, spiritual connection to animals and the land. Some people think the book is too slow. Too much focus on the landscape and not enough action. And I would agree it’s not a book that you’ll want to plow through. It’s one to be savored in hardcover or paperback. So you can dog-ear those pages and underline those sentences that speak some essential truth that you always knew was out there, but couldn’t put your finger on before. This book will change a small part of you, if you stick with it.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. My son and I have been reading this classic together, and I’m amazed at his young age, that he’s as into the story as I am. I think I didn’t read this novel for the first time until junior high school. Of course, he loves the idea of sneaking out of school to fish, of trading frogs for a slingshot, and tricking friends and adults on a daily basis. It’s also a great conversation-starter about race issues in America’s past and present. If you haven’t read this in a while, take another look. It’s free as an Amazon Kindle book. And for the record, we don’t say the “N” word out loud in this house, but we do read the original, unedited version.

Prelude to Bruise by Saeed Jones. This is poet Jones’ debut collection, and it’s moving and touching and oh-so-brilliant. The poems capture tenderness and harshness. They are fierce and hope-filled. The collection has such energy and such a story to tell about the connection between one’s history and one’s identity. Some of the poems are difficult to read, yes. But they hit you somewhere between your heart and your intellect, and that’s somewhere, as a reader, I want to be hit every now and then. This is probably one of the best poetry collections I’ve read in a long time. A sampling of why (from Postapocalyptic Heartbeat):

After ruin,

after shards of glass like misplaced stars,

after dredge,

after the black bite of frost:                you are the after,

you are the first hour in a life without clocks;   the name of whatever

falls from the clouds now is you (it is not rain),

a song in a dead language, an unlit earth, a coast broken–

how was I to know every word was your name?

 

What were your favorites of 2014? Please share in the comments below!

Which Novel Should You Read First? Take the Quiz

The infographic craze is, well, crazy. I think it’s safe to say that I’m about as tired of infographics as I am the #IceBucketChallenge.

And yet …

Let me know your result of this quiz, would ya? I’ll psychologically analyze you later.

infographic

My Favorite Reads of 2013

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Before pneumonia took me down in December, I would consider 2013 a banner reading year for me. Mostly because, perhaps unfortunately, I wasn’t writing much fiction myself. Which is just fine. Because sometimes writers need to spend a long time soaking up the words others have written to get back to the reason we write in the first place.

I didn’t keep track, but I’m sure I read at least 100 books — some fiction, some nonfiction. And here are five of my favorites.

1. Tenth of December by George Saunders. This collection of short stories is literary perfection. Every word, every phrase, every sentence, every character, and every story seems to have meaning far beyond the first that comes to mind. It’s definitely a thinker’s story collection and not for anyone who wants a light, airy read. It’s honest and brutal and moving, and it’s one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve read it. It’s oh so good. It’s one I will buy in hardcover after having read it twice on my Kindle. This should be required reading for all writers of fiction. Maybe all writers in general. Maybe all readers.

2. Great Colorado Bear Stories by Laura Pritchett. I’ve been a fan of Laura’s since her first collection of short stories, Hell’s Bottom, Colorado. And I’m also very interested in bears, since I have lived among them in the Colorado mountains for 12 years now. But I think anyone who is curious about wildlife, and the interaction between humans and wildlife, will enjoy it. The book is full of nonfiction research and first-hand accounts of bear encounters. It’s written in a way that engages and makes what could be a dry topic instead a book I couldn’t put down. If you like Craig Childs’ work, you’ll enjoy this book.

3. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III. Another fiction collection, this one touted as “four not-quite-novella-length stories.” I absolutely loved these stories, all of them about relationships and people who are on the cusp of something. The stories hurl you into the characters’ minds so completely that you truly care about them, even with all their flaws, and, in comparison to Saunders’ work, you don’t even think about the words or language used. You just HAVE to know what happens to these people. (However, the writing is near brilliant, too.) I’d love to see any of these stories made into a full novel. If you liked House of Sand and Fog by Dubus, you’ll enjoy this collection.

4. Judging a Book by Its Lover: A Field Guide to the Hearts and Minds of Readers Everywhere by Lauren Leto. This was a fun, nonfiction keeper. It’s from the woman who cofounded the humor blog, Texts From Last Night, while she was in law school. But the book grew out of her other blog (no longer up, I don’t think) called Book Porn. This book is hilarious, particularly for college English majors and all-around book nerds like me. Here’s how the publisher described it, and I agree: “… [It’s] like a literary Sh*t My Dad Says—an unrelentingly witty and delightfully irreverent guide to the intricate world of passionate literary debate, at once skewering and celebrating great writers, from Dostoevsky to Ayn Rand to Jonathan Franzen, and all the people who read them.”

5. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh. Another blogger turned book-writer, Brosh got her book deal based on her blog, Hyperbole and a Half. So be sure to check out the blog to see if you can handle her type of writing, which is a hybrid form of words and illustrations and more words. But mostly, it’s hilarious. And insightful. And true. Not just to her life, but probably to your own. My favorite chapters were the ones where she delves into the minds of her dogs (so funny!) and the ones where she describes depression for those who have never experienced it (spot on.)

What was your favorite read of 2013?

Free Weekend Promotion! Children’s Picture Book for Kindle Fire

Higgenbloom and the Dancing GrandmasHi all! Now through Monday, my children’s picture ebook (for kids age 3 to 6 and all adults!) is FREE on Amazon – available for download to your Kindle Fire or to your iPad with the Kindle reading app.

Download the free Kindle book right now.

This is likely the only free promotion that’ll happen this year, so take advantage, and help spread the word about the book! (Reviews are always appreciated, too.)

I really hope you enjoy Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas.

Here’s the book description:

Higgenbloom the Honey Bee didn’t fit in with the other bees who lived on Grandma Rosemary’s farm. Instead of working from sunup to sundown like the others, Higgenbloom was known for doing silly somersaults, breaking out in little bee boogies, and pretending he was a jet pilot, zooming from flower to flower and making himself quite dizzy. But sadly, Higgenbloom always played alone. One morning, Higgenbloom wanders off on his own (again), only to find himself in a heap of trouble — trapped inside a moving car and traveling away from the farm and everything he knows! Find out what happens when Higgenbloom goes on an adventure … and encounters some very cool Dancing Grandmas along the way. Packed with abundant silliness, interactive questions for children, and beautiful illustrations, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas is the perfect book for fun grandmothers who know how to “rock and roll,” grandchildren who love being silly, or anyone who has ever wanted to boogie down — no matter what others might think.
Thanks for reading!


 

My Novel Wins [Gulp] a National Award

cover A Good kind of knowingCan I get a woohoo? How about a yeehaw? My latest novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, has won top honors from the National Federation of Press Women in its 2013 national writing competition. The book won first place in the Novel – Adult Readers category. The awards ceremony will take place this August in Salt Lake City. Earlier this year, the novel won the state competition, and that news was exciting enough. But national? Wow. I’m stunned!

To celebrate, the novel will be only 99 cents as an ebook on Amazon for a few days, so tell your friends, family, enemies, dogs, llamas, etc. Here’s the link.

Thank you so much for believing in my work. A national award is groovy, but whether you are a new reader or an “old” reader, your support is what matters most to me.

New Book Trailer for Children’s Picture Ebook

I’m pleased to post the new book trailer/slideshow for my children’s picture ebook, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas! I hope it makes you smile (and maybe want to buy the book for your kiddos!)

 

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow

A Honey Bee (and A Few Rockin’ Grandmas) Are Born

Higgenbloom and the Dancing GrandmasExciting news this week! The children’s picture book I’ve been mentioning for a few months now, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas, is officially out in the world.

My friend Katie MacGillivary did the amazing illustrations, and I am so proud of this project.  I hope everyone enjoys it as much as we enjoyed bringing Higgenbloom and his friends to life.

The book is suitable for everyone but was written with children ages 3 to 6 in mind.

The book is available as an ebook on Amazon right now. Other distribution channels will be online soon. And if it sells well as an ebook, a hardcover will be printed in 2014. You can purchase the ebook here for your Kindle, iPad, desktop, or other type of tablet. You can even read it on your iPhone. All you have to do is download the free Kindle app for your device.

The book is about a cute little honey bee who likes to be silly. A lot. One morning, Higgenbloom wanders off and finds himself in a heap of trouble — trapped inside a moving car and traveling away from the farm and everything he knows! The day becomes quite an adventure when Higgenbloom encounters some very cool Dancing Grandmas along the way.

Packed with abundant silliness and interactive questions for children, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas celebrates grandmothers who like to “rock and roll,” grandchildren who love being silly, or anyone who has ever wanted to boogie down — no matter what others might think.

Higgenbloom is on Facebook, of course. Isn’t everybody? Please “like” the book here to help spread the word and stay on top of news and upcoming contests! He also has his own website, too, at higgenbloomthehoneybee.com.

Thanks, y’all, for supporting this latest work. It’s my third children’s book, but my first one that’s released for the general public and available as an ebook. Please let me know how you like it!

PS: I love telling the world that the old stereotype found so often in children’s literature of a grandmother wasting away life in a rocking chair isn’t quite reality for most of the grandmas I know. Grandmas rock!

Free Kindle Promotion for A Good Kind of Knowing

cover A Good kind of knowingMy latest novel, A Good Kind of Knowing, has been out now since October (in ebook, since December in paperback), and this is the first time it’s been offered free as an ebook via Amazon. It’s a free promotion in advance of my blog tour, which begins next week.

If you’d like to try the novel, risk-free, this is when to download! The promotion goes from April 4 through April 7.

 

 

Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009V3G93O

The book currently has 35 reader reviews on Amazon and a 4.5-star average rating. (Thank you, readers, who have offered your heartfelt reviews!) A friend recently told me that it was the most moving book she’s read in a long time. Wow. Just. Wow. So pleased with that kind of response to my work.

Feel free to share this information with friends. For every download, I hope that person enjoys the story enough to tell a friend.

Oh, and you don’t have to have a Kindle to get the free download. You just need to add the Kindle app to your iPad, android tablet, iPhone, desktop computer, whatever. You can get the free app here.

Thanks, always, for the support!

 

 

 

First Look at the Dancing Grandmas

So far, I’ve given you several peeks at the awfully cute Higgenbloom the Honey Bee from my forthcoming children’s book, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas. (Spring 2013 release date)

Now, here’s your first look at the Dancing Grandmas! (See below.) I personally think they ROCK, thanks to illustrator Kate MacGillivary.

And here’s the book’s official description: (recommended for children ages 3 to 6)

Higgenbloom the Honey Bee didn’t fit in with the other bees who lived on Grandma Rosemary’s farm. Instead of working from sunup to sundown like the others, Higgenbloom was known for doing silly somersaults, breaking out in little bee boogies, and pretending he was a jet pilot, zooming from flower to flower and making himself quite dizzy. But sadly, Higgenbloom always played alone. One morning, Higgenbloom wanders off on his own (again), only to find himself in a heap of trouble — trapped inside a moving car and traveling away from the farm and everything he knows!

Find out what happens when Higgenbloom goes on an adventure … and encounters some very cool Dancing Grandmas along the way. Packed with abundant silliness, interactive questions for children, and beautiful illustrations, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas is the perfect book for fun grandmothers who know how to “rock and roll,” grandchildren who love being silly, or anyone who has ever wanted to boogie down — no matter what others might think.

Dancing Grandmas

What do y’all think? Thanks for your support, always.

Watching a Children’s Book Come to Life

For me, working on a children’s picture book is a completely different experience than working on adult fiction — because in a picture book, my words are only half the story. The illustrations that bring the characters and setting alive are so very important.

This week, I received the complete illustrations for my (third) children’s book, Higgenbloom and the Dancing Grandmas. And I am in love with the artwork. The illustrator, Kate MacGillivary, is beyond talented. I am just in awe at her amazing creativity. She’s tweaking some things, but it’s looking like we might be able to make our planned spring ebook release. Stay tuned for more info as I have it. Grandmas (and grandkids) everywhere are gonna love this book!

For now, though, here’s another peek into the world of Higgenbloom, a very silly honeybee:

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