Book List for 2019 (Part 1 of 2)

Sometime last year, I started keeping track of books I read by physically writing them down in a journal. This year, I transitioned to using Goodreads. If you are interested in connecting with me on Goodreads, you can do so with this link. I decided to participate in a reading challenge this year, and set my goal as 52 books, or one book per week. I went beyond that goal, but I’m not yet sure by how much as there are still three weeks left to get through.

Because this list is so long, I thought I would break it up into two parts. This is the first!

Since Goodreads uses a one- to five-star system, I’ll use that here as well.

  1. The Awakening, by Kate Chopin. 5 stars. Is it  sad that the first book I read this year was probably one of my favorites? I loved, loved, loved this book. It was written in 1899 and (almost sadly) still so relevant today. In my opinion, every woman should read this book.
  2. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. 4 stars. Sometimes, I read nonfiction. I liked this one.
  3. Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. 5 stars. I almost subtracted a star when I saw this was written by a white guy, but I did really like it.
  4. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls. 5 stars. This was a true story of poverty and neglect in America. Do read about the author but don’t bother with the movie.
  5. Audrey’s Door, by Sarah Langan. 3 stars. This is a horror story my husband bought, and horror is not a preferred genre of mine, so it’s probably better than I think it is.
  6. The Painted Veil, by W. Somerset Maugham. 5 stars. This was really, really great. The only other book of this author I had read was Of Human Bondage, and that was a few years ago, but I thought this was better by far. A terrific example of how a man can write a compelling female protagonist. I read about the movie and it seems awful and totally different from the book, so I don’t recommend that.
  7. My Abandonment, by Peter Rock. 4 stars. This book was based on a true story of a guy and his young daughter living in a park in Portland, Oregon. In this case, I do want to see the movie, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.
  8. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson. 3 stars. Another non-fiction book. Obviously I love getting rid of stuff, so I had to read it.
  9. Three Floors Up, by Eshkol Nevo. 4 stars. I read this for a book club and to be honest I don’t really remember it, but obviously I liked it when I read it.
  10. Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, by Fumio Sasaki. 3 stars. I have to be honest that the best thing about this one was the photos.
  11. The Minimalist Home, by Joshua Becker. 3 stars. I think I read too many similar books in a row because I’m having trouble remembering this. I also think I read all this last spring to gear myself up for my biannual minimalism game.
  12. The Great Passage, by Shion Miura. 4 stars. I think I got this free as an Amazon promotion. It’s about an editor of a dictionary, and has a lot about the meanings of words. Fun!
  13. The Girl With All the Gifts, by Mike Carey. 5 stars. Sometimes, a funny thing will happen where several people will recommend a book to me, within days of each other. This was the first book this year that happened with, and it’s by the writer of one of my favorite comics, Lucifer.
  14. The Brain: The Story of You, by David Eagleman. 5 stars. This is obviously another nonfiction. If you love neuroscience, read this!
  15. A Life Less Throwaway: The Lost Art of Buying for Life, by Tara Button. 4 stars. This topic is very important–quality over quantity.
  16. Knock Knock, by S.P. Miskowski. 3 stars. Another horror book my husband got on our shared kindle account. I loved the set-up, but I don’t know if the ending delivered.
  17. 2BR02B, by Kurt Vonnegut. 5 stars. I started reading Vonnegut last year, and I love everything I’ve read so far. Incidentally, I read the entire story before I understood what the title meant (mental facepalm).
  18. Delphine Dodd, by S.P. Miskowski. 4 stars. I liked this book, the second in the series, better than the first.
  19. Astoria, by S.P. Miskowskit. 4 stars. The third book in the same series.
  20. In the Light, by S.P. Miskowskit. 4 stars. This is the fourth and final book in the series.
  21. The Power, by Naomi Alderman. 5 stars. Another book that a bunch of people recommended to me and totally worth it. Great read.

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    I wish I had this version, with an intro by Sarah Waters. So awesome and appropriate!
  22. Lolly Willowes, by Sylvia Townsend Warner. 5 stars. I just started tearing up remembering how much I loved this book. Currently tied for first place in books I’ve read this year with The Awakening. A book club I’m in had a vote between two books and this was one of them. The club chose the other, but I read this one anyway. What swayed me was the female author, the time it was written (1920s), and an Amazon review. The review read, “What do all women want? To be witches, always.” I read this book in a day while I was staying in a forest, and I have to say, if you can read this while in the forest, you will not regret it. Plus, I started reading about Sylvia Townsend Warner’s life and she was just an amazing badass.
  23. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol 1: The Crucible, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. 5 stars. Yes, this is a graphic novel, but I loved it more than I loved the show (which was a lot). The art is gorgeous as well.
  24. Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. 5 stars. On the recommendation of my very best friend, I decided to read Agatha Christie, so I started with one of the most popular books. I was never that into mysteries before, but this was a fun, quick read. I even watched and enjoyed the old black and white movie afterward.
  25. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, by Agatha Christie. 4 stars. I decided to try to read Christie’s books in order as much as possible, and this was her first.
  26. Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson. 5 stars. Many people who I interact with on a regular basis recommended this, so I read it, even though it’s about space, which unsettles me. The rating is partially based on the amount of time I thought about it after finishing it (a lot).
  27. Verity, by Colleen Hoover. 1 star. I read this for a book club. It was boring and predicable, with very unlikable characters.
  28. A Caribbean Mystery, by Agatha Christie. 4 stars. This was the first Miss Marple book I read, and I like her better the Poirot.
  29. The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie. 3 stars. This was the first Tommy and Tuppence book I read, and I’m not sure where it ranks.
  30. Kindred, by Octavia Butler. 5 stars. There is a rare book that is so stressful that I literally cannot put it down. This was one for me.

Partial Book List 2018

Imagine you are reading this on January 1, because that’s when I should have published it. Better late than never, I guess?

Anyway, I decided back in June of 2018 to begin tracking the books I read. I didn’t include non-fiction, because sometimes I read for work and it was liable to get confusing and maybe too long. Any book with a grade of an A- or better is recommended to all. As with all grading systems, mine is highly subjective. I considered both how much I enjoyed the book and how much time I spent thinking about it afterward. I tend to read every book that’s recommended to me, so feel free to recommend.

Books 2018
(Starting in June)

1. The Club Dumas
Arturo Pérez-Reverte
A+

2. Rosemary’s Baby
Ira Levin
A+

3. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick
B-

4. Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
A

5. The Changeling: A Novel
Victor LaValle
A+

6. Dietland: A Novel
Sarai Walker
A
-

7. Breakfast of Champions
Kurt Vonnegut
B+

8. Slaughter-house Five
Kurt Vonnegut
A

9. Cat’s Cradle
Kurt Vonnegut
A

10. Sloughing Towards Bethlehem
Joan Didion
B

11. Call Me By Your Name
André Aciman
A-

12. The Thorn & the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story
Theodora Goss
B+

13. The Ninth Life of Louis Drax
Liz Jensen
B

14. Heidi
Johanna Spyri
B-

15. Black Beauty
Anna Sewell
B

16. The Paying Guests
Sarah Waters
A-

17. My Sister’s Keeper
Jodi Picoult
C

18. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
Theodora Goss
C+

19. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Mark Haddon
A

20. The Golem and the Jinni
Helene Wecker
A-

21. Convenience Store Woman
Sayaka Murata
A

22. Sharp Objects
Gillian Flynn
B-

23. The Color Purple
Alice Walker
A

24. The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
B-

25. The Fall of Lisa Bellow
Susan Perabo
C

26. Carrion Comfort
Dan Simmons
B

27. The Red Tent
Anita Diamant
B+

28. Beloved
Toni Morrison
B

29. Hell House
Richard Matheson
B

30. The Death of Mrs Westaway
Ruth Ware
B+

31. The Pale King
David Foster Wallace
B

32. The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan
A-

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I don’t have, nor could I read, the original Spanish version, but I wish I did!

If I had to pick my favorite book of the year, it would probably be The Club Dumas, the first book on my list! I also love the movie, The Ninth Gate. Highly recommend both!

Reading for a Snowy Day

The weather yesterday in New York City was great if you love snow and cold and wind and want a day off from school but terrible if you hate the snow and cold and wind and have to work from home while supervising two small children. I find myself in the latter group, of course!

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The younger and I watching the husband and elder son shovel. I didn’t want to let him outside because of the 50-mile-an-hour winds (he’s only 29 pounds)!

Being on a conference call while people are demanding juice and Peppa Pig videos is pretty tough, and trying to get through almost a full day inside with minimal screen time while you are working on your day job stuff is tougher. While I was making dinner, I had them clean up about 50 pounds worth of Legos, race tracks, puzzles, and the like. However, during the day the whole house was a minefield of toys.

But, we got through it, and today schools are open again, and while we deliberately went in late to avoid the rush, getting there was not totally terrible. In any case, I wanted to make my first book, New Blood, free for yesterday for snowed-in reading. But, in the stress and insanity of the day, I forgot to announce it. In the spirit of better late than never, it’s free today as well. Please feel free to download your copy here!

 

 

 

 

The magical world in the clouds

I have previously shared that when I wrote my first two novels, I did so on an archaic device known as paper! The only benefit to that was that it made me really analyze the story and do significant rewrites during the second draft process, which included typing the book on my computer. It probably also helped me figure out the process of writing a book, as it was my first time doing it.

When I got to my third book, I realized the hand cramps were not worth it, and switched to typing directly on my computer. It was a real time-saver too, as I can obviously type faster that I can write. But, I sometimes wrote on my work computer, and sometimes on my home computer, so I ended up emailing myself the file several times a week. Apart from being a version-control nightmare, this was really stressful.

cloud

My new book is safe up there in the magical cloud!

So finally, in the year 2017, I have finally realized what everyone else realized a long time ago, namely that if you simply use cloud storage, you will never ever run into these types of problems. I am at home today because my son’s daycare is closed, and I had a moment of sadness that I forgot to save my file of my new book, and would not be able to work on it until Monday. But then! I opened up Google Drive and there it was, right up to the very last word I typed yesterday! Thank you, the magical cloud, for saving my writing!

Trying to pick up where I left off

Apparently 2017 is almost over, and, when it comes to volume of writing, I have done very little this year. After finishing my six-book series of urban fantasy, I wanted to do some personal, reflective writing. I did so, but it took so much more time than I had anticipated.

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My children reflecting on their actual reflections in a pond, upstate New York, summer 2017.

The original, finished but as-yet unedited piece was about 12K words, and that took me more than a year to write. Then I worked on editing it. That took about two months and left it at about 7k words. And now I’m left with a piece that was extremely cathartic to write, but I don’t want anyone to read it, because of the personal nature. But I hate to think the year-long process was just an exercise in journal writing, so I may look to publish it in a magazine, under a pen name.

However, all this said, what I need now is a break from this gut-wrenching introspection and get back to something that’s, at times, only slightly less painful, and that is fiction writing. Ten years ago, in 2007, I decided to take part in National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo), and that was when I wrote approximately 60% of the first draft of my first book, New Blood. When December 1 came, I just kept on writing until I was done, and then put it in a drawer for about 3 years. Because I find meaning in symmetry, I am thinking now would be a good time for me to put aside my personal troubles, and start thinking more about the topic of my next series, werewolves!

My love of the library

Growing up in an urban area (Queens, NY), I was able to walk to many different stores that were within a few blocks of my house. There were no bookstores, but there was a library. Sadly, most of my family members were not very into reading, so I was not taken to the library until I noticed it one day on the way to the grocery store, and specifically requested of my grandmother that we go there.

I still remember the feeling of amazement when I realized I was able to not only read any book I wanted, but I could also borrow them and take them home. After that, I visited the library at least once a week. Today, I am fortunately enough to live within three blocks of my local library. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, it’s not open on the weekends, but I do take my sons to visit whenever I’m home with them during the week.

Last week, we stopped in and my older son immediately picked out two books for me to read them. He’s only four, and thus has very limited reading ability as of yet. But I do love reading to them, and hope they grow up to love books at least in part due to my efforts. Anyway, we got through the first one okay, but then I realized the second one was quite long, and my ten-month-old had already fallen asleep in his stroller, and my older one’s lids were fluttering.
read
Of course, it’s also very important to read to your cats.

Suddenly, the idea came to me that we could borrow these books! I usually don’t borrow books because I’m afraid I’ll loose them and never return them, but due to my recent experiments into mimimalism, my house is (slightly) less cluttered, so I decided it was worth the risk. My son was so excited at getting to borrow a book, and it brought me back to my childhood library experience. I realize I’m very lucky to live where I do, and hopefully the library will be around for my sons to enjoy as they grow up.

Little break down in tears on the prairie

One of my favorite book series when I was young was the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” books. I read them at least once a year while I was in elementary school, and then every few years as I grew older. Now that my older son is almost five, I decided to start reading them to him. Of course, I started in chronological order, with “Little House in the Big Woods.” It was less exciting than I remember.

lh

Poor Jack had to walk all over the prairie through the first few books!

For those who haven’t read this series as recently as I have, “Big Woods” basically goes through a year in the life of the Ingalls family, without having much of a plot. The most memorable part for me was when the kids blew up the pig bladder and tossed it around like a ball. The next book, “Farmer Boy,” about her husband growing up in upstate New York, was memorable for all the vivid descriptions of the food. In the next book, “Little House on the Prairie,” the family attempts to settle on the Osage Indian reservation, and there were a lot of very negative things said about Native Americans, so I ended up skipping over quite a bit. “On the Bank of Plum Creek,” which comes next, has my very favorite part in all the books, where Laura has a party and takes all her school friends to go wading in the crick, and there scares Nellie Olson with the crab who lives in it.
A few nights ago, we started on the next book, “On the Shores of Silver Lake.” There is a gap of a few years between the start of this book and the one before it, and Laura is now 13 years old instead of 9. The tone is very different, and a lot of horrible things have happened, such as Mary going blind and the death of an infant. I knew I had to read the part about Mary going blind, because it is such a prevalent plot point in the rest of the books, but I paused in my reading to make sure my son understood what blindness was before going on. (I edited out the part about the “Scarlet fever settling in her eyes,” because Scarlet fever doesn’t make one go blind. One theory is that she actually had untreated meningitis. But I digress.) And although I swore the part about the baby dying happened right away, I didn’t see it. Perhaps they cut it out of the book, since I have a very new edition? Whatever the case may be, the youngest sister is already born at the beginning of this book, and she was their last born child, so chronologically, it already happened.
The second chapter of the book is memorable because Jack, Laura’s childhood dog, dies. I was prepared for this and fully expected to be able to read it. It’s an important part of the book, because it’s supposed to represent Laura’s transition from childhood to adolescence. But I’m not deluded enough to think my four-year-old child would grasp the significance of that. So as it went on, I started breaking down and crying, and eventually had to stop reading at this part:
“Good Jack, good dog,” she told him. He turned his head to touch her hand with the tip of his tongue.
Then he let his nose sink onto his paws and he sighed and closed his eyes. He wanted to sleep now.
Strangely enough, I don’t remember crying quite so much about it when I was younger. Since I’ve had kids, I’ve definitely gotten more emotional, and everything I see I tend to imagine seeing through their eyes. And while I want to be able to talk to my sons about anything, the death of a fictional bulldog is obviously too much for me right now.