Pop Sugar 2017 Challenge

I figured it was about time to do an update on my 2017 Pop Sugar Reading challenge.

1. A book recommended by a librarian
2. A book that’s been on your TBR list for way too long
3. A book of letters
4. An audiobook
5. A book by a person of color
6. A book with one of the four seasons in the title
7. A book that is a story within a story: The Life we Bury by Allen Eskens
8. A book with multiple authors
9. An espionage thriller
10. A book with a cat on the cover: Tea with Milk and Murder by H.Y. Hanna
11. A book by an author who uses a pseudonym
12. A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read
13. A book by or about a person who has a disability
14. A book involving travel
15. A book with a subtitle: My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach
16. A book that’s published in 2017: Between Nowhere and Lost by Alexandra Christle
17. A book involving a mythical creature: Blythewood by Carol Goodman
18. A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile
19. A book about food
20. A book with career advice: Bird by Bird by Anne Lemott
21. A book from a nonhuman perspective: Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson
22. A steampunk novel: Marianne and the Mad Baron by Kathryn Kohorst
23. A book with a red spine
24. A book set in the wilderness
25. A book you loved as a child: On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
26. A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited
27. A book with a title that’s a character’s name: Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein
28. A novel set during wartime
29. A book with an unreliable narrator: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremble
30. A book with pictures
31. A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
32. A book about an interesting woman
33. A book set in two different time periods:
34. A book with a month or day of the week in the title
35. A book set in a hotel
36. A book written by someone you admire
37. A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017
38. A book set around a holiday other than Christmas
39. The first book in a series you haven’t read before A Scone to Die For by H.Y. Hanna
40. A book you bought on a trip

Review: The Fairy Swarm by Suzanne Selfors

I’m a little over two weeks late with my final book for the January Project, but The Fairy Swarm may be my favorite of the bunch.  It took a little longer to finish this book because my 8 year old and I have been reading this together at his bedtime. My 12 year old finished it in an afternoon and I suspect my son finished it long before he and I snuggled up for the last chapter.

The Fairy Swarm is the sixth and (it appears) final book in the excellent “Imaginary Veterinary” series. I really hope it isn’t the last of these characters because I have adored every book in this series, and more importantly, my kids love them too.

In this installment, a swarm of fairies escape the imaginary world and cause lots of trouble in the known world, specifically the town of Buttonville. Ben and Pearl, as assistants to the only Imaginary Veterinarian around, must help capture the fairies before the townspeople become suspicious. When the town’s resident busybody, Mrs. Mulberry calls in an exterminator to rid the town of killer bees, it gets harder and harder for Ben and Pearl to protect the secrets of the imaginary world.  This is a fitting end to the series, although it leaves the door open for my son and I to hope for a special edition follow-up or two. (Please read this Suzanne Selfors.)

The Fairy Swarm delivered on everything I love about this series. The heroes, Pearl and Ben, are both ten years old and they act like real kids. Sometimes, they are smart, sometimes they make bad decisions. Sometimes they are brave, sometimes scared. Sometimes they get their feelings hurt and sometimes, they hurt someone else’s feelings. The emotional landscape of these stories has prompted a lot of conversations in my house. We use moments where the characters feel lonely, clever, angry, patient, scared, bored, curious and so on to discuss times they feel the same way. As a parent, this is huge.

The books also offer terrific insight into friendship. Pearl and Ben come from different backgrounds (Los Angeles resident Ben is visiting his grandfather for the summer; Pearl has never left the town of Buttonville). Neither has lots of friends, but both have good hearts. Pearl often tumbles into action before thinking, whereas Ben tends to think before speaking, but  both learn to appreciate the other’s approach.

Furthermore, Suzanne Selfors is a terrific author. The pacing keeps busy kids wanting to turn the page and the writing is at once clear and vocabulary stretching.

Kids will be motivated to read these stories for the humor and the mythical creatures occupying every page.  Who doesn’t love a good Sasquatch? The titles reveal a primary legendary creature for each book, but many more occupy the pages. Fairies, Dragons, Satyrs, Unicorns, lake monsters and more need veterinary care. The blend of fantasy and real world is charming. Although, thanks to these books, if I ever do run into Big Foot, I know exactly what I’ll need to capture him and turn him into a yoga partner.

I haven’t posted many buy links, but here are links for The Fairy Swarm if you need to buy online, otherwise, beg your local library or independent bookseller to stock it for you.

Amazon

Barnes&Noble

 

The January Project, 2016

I’m going to be blunt. 2015 was a crap year for me, with pretty much all my energy was sucked up by efforts to recover from my broken arm (Jan 26, 2015 – I’ll celebrate the anniversary by hiding in bed). I’m finally starting to get over the mental fog, but the best of 2015 lists? Um yeah. Didn’t happen.

I’m still committed to The January Project, even after last year’s abrupt interruption. My goal this month is purchase nothing new (not even free books) and to clear some books off of my shelf while also giving reviews to authors in need.

If you don’t know much about the book business, think of your own life a moment. How much do you depend on reviews? Would you buy a two star vacuum from Amazon? What about a book that had thirty five star reviews, but the only text ones said things like “This is the best book ever!” I was burned a few too many times on that last one in 2015 and quit a lot of crap books with lousy editing.

Book reviews and sales are a numbers game. An author has to have a certain number of reviews to be considered for those nifty newsletters or special sale promotions. An author can’t get sales and reviews without visibility. You can’t get visibility in the form of “readers who liked … also liked….” without a certain number of text reviews. It blows. I cannot change the system. I also cannot change the policy that strips some authors of reviews because they know another author or because a fan friends them on Facebook.

What I can do is read books and write reviews. In the month of January, I commit to cleaning my shelves and reviewing books with less than twenty reviews. I challenge you to read a new to you author and leave a thoughtful review.

Look for reviews over the next few weeks.

Review: The Boys of Summer by Sarah Madison

My first foray into gay romance brought to you by The January Project.

My alter ego won an ebook of  Sarah Madison’s The Boys of Summer during a month-long blog hop. I didn’t have to enter the contest, but the cover and description evoking World War II sucked me in. I’m so glad I’m a lucky girl.

In the modern day, David McIntyre, a Hollywood location scout, hires Rick Sutton of Sutton’s Air Service to fly him around Hawaii’s islands.  A storm forces Sutton to crash land on a deserted island as the two are nearing the end of their working relationship.  The two men take refuge in an abandoned World War II outpost and scavenge resources, battle the elements and injuries and try to attract the attention of potential rescuers before it is too late.

This is only part of the story. Roughly one third of the way into The Boys of Summer, the author introduces a lengthy dream sequence. For some people, this is a deal killer. In the past, I’ve been known to roll my eyes or worse put down a book with dream sequences lasting a page or two because they are irrelevant to the story. David dreams he and Sutton met and became romantically involved in London during World War II. About twenty pages in, the idea crossed my mind that it was a novella that could stand alone and apart from the contemporary frame, then the last third of the book, set once again in modern day Hawaii blew up that foolish conception.  The dream sequence becomes integral to David’s character arc and guides his actions. Major props to Sarah Madison for making a dream sequence that is worth reading AND relevant to the story.

I also commend the author for the judicious and effective use of detail. All too often in historical novels, superfluous detail describing the curtains or ruffles on a gown the sheen on a street take away from a character and deep point of view.  The reader sees both settings through David’s sharp eye.  He is a man who notices detail as a profession, but his commentary on what he sees is honest, never showing off.  Madison did her research and her accuracy shines as the RAF pilots discuss planes, but she never loses sight of her characters.

This is a character driven novel, in spite of having adventure scenes that would fit into one of the movies David loves. The male/male sex scenes are pretty tame compared to ones I’ve read in mainstream male/female romance and even sex scenes from literary works. I walked away with a sense of tenderness between partners rather than sex simply to titillate and push book sales.

All in all, I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this novel.  The Boys of Summer certainly exceeded my expectations, although in truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect other than “gay romance.” The beauty in this story and writing go beyond a subcategory.  I will seek out more of Sarah Madison’s writing in the future.

As always, I make no money by offering buy links but I want to offer them as part of The January Project to encourage book reviews.

Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Boys-Summer-Sarah-Madison-ebook/dp/B00CCUVR7G/ref=sr_1_4?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1390076079&sr=1-4&keywords=the+boys+of+summer

Barnes&Noble http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-boys-of-summer-sarah-madison/1115194648?ean=9781484135495

Review: Behind the Blue Door:230 Periwinkle Place by Jayne Ormerod

Another short review of a short read.  I’m getting into novellas after this month – these short reads make me feel more productive.  Behind the Blue Door is apparently a series of stories written by different authors who imagine what happens in a house with a blue door.  I love this first entry 230 Periwinkle Place by Jayne Ormerod. Even though I picked it up on a free kindle day, you can buy this for the amount of money you’ll find under the floor mats of your car.

Single mom Skye Whitmore’s life goes into a tailspin, and not just because of what her twelve year old son did while home alone.  A picture of a house with a blue door takes her back to a not so innocent time in her life when her four-year-old self witnessed her mother’s murder in that same house.  Skye decides to more forward, she must take a journey into the past and learn the truth behind the crime.

I love the dialogue, it’s fast paced and funny. These are characters you’d love to hang out with. Skye is a flawed character, but utterly charming. Her relationship with her son, Blake, bubbles with real life moments and the chaos that comes from parenting. This quick, fully developed story was a great way to spend an afternoon.  Mystery fans, rejoice, because Jayne Ormerod has other books too.

http://www.amazon.com/Behind-Blue-Door-Periwinkle-Place-ebook/dp/B00C8TSHOM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1389362416&sr=1-1&keywords=jayne+ormerod

Review: Pastels and Jingle Bells by Christine S Feldman

I’ll stick to a short and sweet review of this fun fast read.  In Pastels and Jingle Bells, baker and artist Trish Ackerly gets the opportunity to seek revenge on her middle school bully, Ian Rafferty when he hires her to paint some windows. Ian isn’t the boy who used to call her “Pattycake.” As she gets to know him and his reasons for hiring her as an artist, will she follow through on her plans?

Christine S. Feldman, another new to me author, writes amazing dialogue.  I’m impressed with how much information and personality she conveyed through dialogue.  There wasn’t an unnecessary word. I also enjoyed this variation on the “Friends to Lovers” trope. I use that term, but this is a sweet romance (meaning no hot and heavy nookie scenes).    Bullying is a buzzy topic and those of us subjected to it (which pretty much means everyone) have all entertained revenge fantasies at some point in time. Start with that anger and sense of helplessness and read this story to find humor and peace.

I’m adding a buy link because if this project is designed to help authors, maybe I should let you know at least one place to find their book.  I make no money on this.  Also in full disclosure as part of The January Project – I downloaded this book from Amazon – but I can’t remember if I paid for it or downloaded on a free day.

http://www.amazon.com/Pastels-Jingle-Heavenly-Novella-Novellas-ebook/dp/B00GCVZEG6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1388964062&sr=1-1&keywords=pastels+and+jingle+bells

The January Project

The January Project evolved from a desire to reduce my “To Be Read” pile.  Initially, I intended to only read books by authors I have met face to face and from whom I’ve received a free book. Then I decided that was arrogant, and potentially friendship ending if I didn’t like the work a person produced.  I decided to expand my list of authors to those I have gotten to know online and include books I’ve purchased as well.

My brain agonized over the point of this project.  Should it simply be to free up space on my bookshelf or should I incorporate a higher purpose? Why have I received so many books in the first place? Easy – REVIEWS.

When an author or the publisher provides you with a free copy of a book, whether at an industry event or through an on-line giveaway, a sale is lost in hopes of gaining more. Since fewer of us peruse the physical aisles of bookstores, a splashy cover is no longer enough.  For a book to become visible to readers, it needs reviews and buzz.

I offer the January Project as a way to help my fellow authors.

Here are the guidelines under which I will operate:

1. I will work from my existing to be read pile.

2. I will prioritize works with less than fifty reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

3. I will step outside my reading comfort zone since I have met a number of authors who write erotica, a genre I don’t read.

4. If a book triggers one of my personal “hot button issues,” I won’t review it because I cannot give a fair and honest review.

5. I will try to note when I received a free copy. None of the books will be advanced review copies.

6. I will include publications of all lengths.

7. I may make an exception for audio books.  Although my library has several from authors I have met, there is no guarantee of availability during the duration of this project.

8. I will post reviews on my site and major review sites.

If you wish to join me (Lyra), please reblog. If I’m clever enough, I add you to my blog role or linked sites or something like that.

Review: Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

I’ve been a bad blogger lately, but as I prepared for my annual “best books I’ve read this year” list, my daughter threw me a curve ball.  Who out there guessed a book geared for ages 8-12 would throw my list into turmoil?  A Maud Hart Lovelace Nominee–which is some Minnesota thing– my daughter spent three months trying to get this book from the library.  Don’t waste your time on the wait list. BUY this book immediately, especially if you have school age children. Because of Mr. Terupt  by Rob Buyea is the type of book they will want to read again and again, and chances are, so will you.

I hardy know where to begin, except to say this is a masterful work.  As a writer myself, I am in awe of Buyea’s technique. Plenty of authors struggle to create two distinctive and believable narrators for their story. Buyea created seven unique fourth graders with heartbreaking authenticity.  By the time the reader gets partway through October, the point of view character is obvious, even without seeing the name.

Technique is nothing without heart and Buyea writes with plenty.  The seven fourth graders are part of Mr. Terupt’s class and the story follows them throughout the school year. Mr. Terupt is the type of teacher we all want our children to have — someone who inspires them and encourages them, alas to add conflict and drama, an accident occurs. It is only then, the characters truly understand what their teacher gave them.

My daughter handed the book to me and promised “you’ll cry because you’re laughing so hard and because you are sad.” Yup. I also loved how it opened communication between us.  With so many different types of characters, we had lots of conversations that started about the book, but ended with both of us learning more about each other.  Terrific writing entertains and builds empathy.  Mr. Buyea wrote one for the ages.  So whether you are a grade-schooler, the parent of a grade-schooler, a grade school teacher or someone who once had a memorable and wonderful teacher, do yourself a favor.  Get this book.

Because the cute photo didn’t want to work, here’s a link to the book on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Because-Mr-Terupt-Rob-Buyea/dp/0375858245/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387405374&sr=1-3&keywords=rob+buyea

And one for B&N http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/because-of-mr-terupt-rob-buyea/1019626278?ean=9780375858246

Remembering Roger Ebert

I may not go often anymore, but I love the movies.  Once upon a time, I harbored the dream of going to film school. Not because I wanted to make them, although playing with fake blood would be a pretty good job description, but I wanted to be a film critic.  And not just any critic.  I wanted to be the female Roger Ebert.  Growing up in Chicago, Roger Ebert was as much a part of my movie going experience as an oversized soda and bucket of popcorn the size of which rivaled a bathtub.  Today I mourn the loss of a man who influenced me and millions of others with his belief that going to the movies should be fun.

Forgive my scattershot thoughts.  I am not the eloquent writer Ebert was.  I cannot knock out a beautifully written an  d thoughtful essay in five minutes – which is all the time I have before the kids wake up.  If you doubt his eloquence, get one of his wonderful essay books stat.  You won’t be disappointed unless you are some type of insane person who cannot appreciate wit, joy, and precisely chosen words.  Don’t judge his writing by watching “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” the Russ Meyer film he scripted.  Or go ahead.  Indulge and don’t feel guilty about it.  Ebert didn’t.

I will miss Ebert’s passion the most.  The man loved movies. Plain and simple.  His paring with the more classically trained movie critic Gene Siskel proved golden.  I loved them on “Sneak Previews” and continued following when the show morphed into” At the Movies.”  I loved how they argued, even when they ultimately agreed.  I loved that two people could look at the same thing, have completely different experiences, and yet often agree the movie earned two thumbs up or two thumbs down.

When I think about my personal Golden Age of going to the movies, that post movie breakdown was as integral to the movie experience as greasy popcorn butter.  Whether I went with to the movies with Mike, Amanda, Mom, Dad, Gabe, Marci, Eric, Genna, or a host of others, the post-film pow-wow and breakdown of what worked and what didn’t was part of the experience.  My husband doesn’t think of going to the movies as a particularly social experience.  I’ve been working with him and he’s improving, but he also didn’t grow up watching Siskel and Ebert.

For teaching me how to watch, enjoy, and discuss not just the movies, but the arts and more, I give Roger Ebert two thumbs up.  Thanks for the inspiration and I’ll see you “At the Movies.”

My top reads of 2012

Since the year is coming to a close, it’s time for all those top ten lists. Once again, I’m adding to the noise.  As per last year, this list does not reflect the best books released in 2012 (although there are several 2012 releases and two debut authors in my list).  I’ve limited my choices to the best books I’ve read this year.  I still haven’t picked up Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, so you won’t see it here.  I do realize that the year is not officially over yet, but I can tell my current read is not a contender. Given its length, it’s likely the last book I finish this year.  My choices are eclectic. Rather than giving you a plot review, I’ll tell you why it made my list.

10. Winter Fairy by Lola Karns (2012) – Some of you know exactly why I have to include this debut author’s book as one of my favorite reads. The characters in this holiday romance, Carson, Penelope and young Eloise stayed with me long after first meeting them.   I wish this author much success.

9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011) – This book is tremendous fun for those of us seeped in 1980s pop culture.  The premise of a treasure hunt in  virtual reality world created by an 80’s obsessed loaner allowed Cline to incorporate song lyrics, early video games, dungeons and dragons and Ladyhawke.  It’s not deep. It’s a beach read that makes you glad you spent so much time singing New Order and Depeche Mode tunes while playing Pac-Man.

8. The Iron Queen and the Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa (both 2011) – The Iron Queen brought to an end the story of the Iron Fey from the point

Don’t judge this book by the cover!

of view of Meghan Chase, a half human, half summer fairy creature who is impervious to the iron (read technology) destroying the fairy worlds and along with it creativity and passionate emotions including love and anger.  Don’t be fooled by the Harlequin Teen publishing label and the covers. The female driven books ask if technology and creativity can co-exist.  The Iron Knight, narrated by the male fairy prince Ash, addresses the very essence of humanity.  One day, I’ll get around to writing a more in-depth review of the latter and explaining why it’s a great companion piece to Will Self’s Great Apes.

7. The Irresistable Henry House by Lisa Grunwald (2010) – Set in post-war America, Grunwald’s story of an orphan raised as a “home-economics house baby” explores the radical shifts in gender roles as both men and women adapted to the rise of feminism and changing ideas of child rearing.

6. The Rook by Daniel O’Malley (2012) – the second debut author on my list and another one I wish much success.  This book has a terrific hook. The idea of waking up in a stranger’s skin is equal parts disgusting, frightening and liberating. The clever use of letters allows the author to deliver relevant back story without it ever feeling like an “info dump” and lets the two Myfanwys be distinct characters.

5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (orig 1992) – I feel cheated that I did not discover this series sooner because it is a whole bunch of crazy (time travel, sassy modern heroine, virginal Scotsmen) that shouldn’t work but some how does, largely due to the distinctive author voice and excellent writing skills.  I am angry at all my friends who never told me about this book. How do you live with yourselves?

4. Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indridason, trans. Bernard Scudder (orig 2001) –  You’ve finished Larson’s “Girl” series and Jo Nesbo’s Henry Hole mysteries so now what? Some seriously bleak Icelandic Noir.  The author captures both the desolate, haunting landscape and the interconnectedness that occurs when the national population is under 320,000.   Good news – it’s a series!

3. Your House is on Fire, Your Children are Gone by Stefan Kiesbye (2012) – The more I think about it the more I like this book.  If I did this list in January 2013 instead of now, it might make the top of the list.  I blogged about it here.

2. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (orig 2011) – The masterful use of language reminded me of Umberto Eco. The author layered realism and magic, horror and hope to create a world worth visiting again and again.  I came away reaffirming my love of books and the transformative power of a good story.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (2012) – I’ve written about this book before. I debated where to put it on this list, certainly somewhere in the top five. It’s not the best book I’ve read all year.  I have enjoyed others more, but Susan Cain’s provocative book has never been far from my mind. The more I considered my list, the more I realized this is the book I’ve most passionately recommended, talked about and thought about.

Honorable mentions: Love of her Lives by Sharon Clare, Gone with a Handsomer Man by Michael Lee West, The Guinea Pig Diaries by A.J. Jacobs, Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello and The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

For more of my reading habits, you can find me on Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/lyratn