Current Reads

With all the traveling I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been juggling a few books. I sped through the Raven Cycle and am now juggling a couple of novels: Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero and Scythe by Neal Shusterman.

I read Cantero’s The Supernatural Enhancements a few years ago, and it is a book that definitely stands out in my mind. Whenever people ask a blanket, “What book do you recommend?” The Supernatural Enhancements is the first thing that springs to the forefront of my brain. I find I’m enjoying Meddling Kids quite a lot, too. Think: the Scooby gang now in their mid to late 20s and dealing with PTSD as they go back to confront a case they thought was closed but . . .

And Scythe I picked up because I’d heard so much about it. I mean, nothing specific in terms of the plot, simply that so many people said it was good. And so far I agree with them. For those few who haven’t read it (I feel like one of the last in the world not to have done), it’s set in a future where mankind has all it needs because technology perfectly manages the world. Immortality has been achieved, and people can move their consciousnesses into younger bodies at will. The one thing that must be done: population control. Which is where the titular scythes enter the picture. You can probably guess the rest from there, more or less.

What are you reading? Any recommendations? Have you tried either of these?

My Books (in one handy graphic)

I get asked fairly frequently, “What do you write?” To which there is no short answer. If I wrote all in one genre, I could say, “I write [insert genre here].” But I write a lot of different stuff. Also, I have an irritating habit of going blank when asked what I write. So I created a handy graphic to remind myself what I’ve written (I lose count) and also show others:

These are all on my Books page, too, of course. Or you could just hit up Amazon. But I’m a visual person in a lot of ways, so seeing it all in one place helps.

Of all these, only two are available in paperback: The K-Pro and Manifesting Destiny. The rest are ebooks (and audiobooks where indicated). Faebourne will also be in paperback, though! Not that paperbacks sell all that well, but I like to have something to bring to events and show at tables.

So there is my bibliography in one quick look. Do you find things like this helpful?

TBR

As you see from the picture, my TBR (“to be read”) pile is relatively small. However, due to other obligations, I don’t read many books or very quickly any more. After all, I have to balance reading time with writing time, and that has to in turn be balanced against chores, errands, appointments, and family time. I used to read 50+ books per year. Now I set a goal of about 24—two per month—because that’s more realistic for me.

Of course, my TBR pile does not reflect my wish list of books that I still want to read but don’t currently have copies of. That’s a much larger stack, even if it is virtual.

Currently I’m reading The Dream Thieves by Stiefvater and Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. Both are really good. Do you read more than one book at a time? I usually top out at about three.

How big are your TBR piles? What about your wish lists? What do you do if you pick up a book and decide you don’t like it or aren’t in the mood for it?

Favorite Books & Authors

Image courtesy of pexels.com

Fairly often I get asked about books I’d recommend or who my favorite authors are. That’s always tricky since my recommendations would largely depend on what the person asking likes to read. I myself read fairly widely, though I certainly don’t read everything. I couldn’t name a good erotica book, for instance, and I’d be limited in science fiction or epic fantasy. The only horror I read, really, is Stephen King and Dean Koontz, so I’d be little help there either.

As for favorite books, well, I have a few. And there are a handful of authors I read pretty consistently, though that handful changes over time as well.

Here are some books I generally name when asked, broadly, for recommendations:

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
In the Woods by Tana French
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton
Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George
Captive Queen by Alison Weir
King and Goddess by Judith Tarr
City of Masks by Daniel Hecht
The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin
Exit Sherlock Holmes by Robert Lee Hall
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
What Do You Hear from Walden Pond? by Jack Douglas

You’ll notice a few things, perhaps. For one, those books are all fiction, though many are historical fiction. A number of them are also mystery and/or fantasy. Only two are Sherlock Holmes stories (and neither by Doyle). None are Shakespeare or Shakespeare adjacent. There’s no Jane Austen on this list. That’s because I don’t think Sherlock Holmes or Shakespeare or Austen are the kind of thing I can recommend to just anybody. They aren’t most people’s cup of tea. If I happen to believe the person asking might like any of those, I’d certainly mention it. But when asked flatly, “Can you recommend a book?” these are what come to mind as most likely to please.

Some of the books listed above are also the first in series. I figure if the person reads and likes the book, it’s on them to follow up with the rest.

Then there are authors. As I mentioned, I go through cycles. I devoured all the Hercule Poirot novels when I was fifteen. I also read a lot of Dean Koontz and Stephen King around that time, and I started in on Anne Rice’s vampire novels too. I worked my way through Judith Tarr. Sara Hylton. Victoria Holt. Someone introduced me to Neil Gaiman’s work when I was 18. I went through a Kathy Reichs phase. I read all the John Le Carré Smiley books. Lately I enjoy Aaronovitch, Morton, and French as mentioned above.

“Which Stephen King books do you recommend?” is another one I get a lot. In my mind, there are two kinds of SK books: those from before his accident, and those from after. For earlier works, I usually suggest ‘Salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, and The Dark Half. In the latter group, Duma Key is my favorite, though I also really enjoyed Bag of Bones.

Those asking for Koontz recommendations, well, I quit reading his books some while ago—around the time he dropped the “R.”—so I can’t speak to newer stuff. I really liked Watchers, and Twilight Eyes still haunts me. Lightning holds a special place in my heart, too, because it was the first “grown-up” book my dad ever handed to me. It was probably not right for someone as young as I was at the time, but I loved it. I kind of want to re-read it, but at the same time I’m afraid it won’t be as good as my memory of it.

“What about nonfiction?” I read less of that than I do fiction, but I enjoyed F You Very Much by Danny Wallace. I tend to like books that examine psychology and/or society. Just about anything by Jeanne Twenge, for example. For film industry books, Which Lie Did I Tell? by William Goldman is the first that comes to mind. I also have quite the personal library of books about Nicholas II and the last Romanovs. The Last Empress by Greg King is really good. I know I’ve also read a number of good biographies, but I suppose none have left much of an impression since nothing springs to mind when people ask me about biographies worth reading. “Who are you interested in?” is my usual reply.

Sometimes the question is about my favorite books from when I was a kid. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was my favorite author when I was younger, and The Changeling was my favorite book by her, though I also really loved The Velvet Room. And of course I read a lot of Judy Blume. I also tended toward animal books: Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie Come Home, The Trouble with Tuck, Socks . . . I liked this one book called The Seventh Princess, I liked the Vesper Holly series by Lloyd Alexander, and I recall enjoying The Dollhouse Murders. There was also this one book called Cadbury’s Coffin that intrigued me. I liked The House of Dies Drear and The Secret of Gumbo Grove. And I read the Not Quite Human books, too.

For more recent titles—for books my kids enjoy, really, and that I sometimes enjoy reading to them—the usual suspects emerge: Riordan, Rowling, and the like.

This is, you see, a very long answer to the question. But there can be no short answer. I like—or, really, love—a lot of books. My house is piled with them, and then there are more still in boxes in the garage. Books I can’t bear yet to part with.

Well, then, what about you? What is your answer when someone asks you for a recommendation?

You Are Not Alone

I want to put in a little plug for this book that released today. You Are Not Alone is part memoir, part self-help book. It delves into the grieving process, particularly in dealing with the loss of a loved one. I helped edit the book, but even if I hadn’t, I’d recommend it. I’ve never read anything like it. You Are Not Alone is both gentle and strong, just the right mix for the people who need it. And everyone will need it at some point in their lives.

If you’re grieving, or know someone who is, please pick up this book.

Favorite Books on Film

I saw this post on another blog (sorry but I don’t remember which one), and it got me thinking: Which book-to-film translations have I enjoyed? Sure, we all [usually] think the book is better, most likely because there’s a lot you can do with words that is difficult, if not impossible, to film. Inner dialogue, for example. But some books have translated pretty well to the screen anyway.

One I see on many lists—and yes, it’s on mine too—is Pride and Prejudice, in particular the BBC miniseries. Yeah, I love that one, too. Though it took me a while to warm to it because I had a college roommate that watched it over and over again. At that point I was avoiding her and the series, so when I finally did sit down to watching some years later, I found it was quite charming. And I do love Jane Austen.

Another book whose movie I enjoyed is Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I saw the movie first, though, and then felt compelled to read the book, which was wonderful as well. There is a prequel I’d like to read as well, though I always hesitate when an author revisits a scene after a long break. (See: Anne Rice’s most recent vampire novels, which I just could not get into.)

I’ll admit I liked Interview with the Vampire, too. I have no excuse for why except that maybe it came out at a time when I was receptive to Tom Cruise as an overacting blonde and boy does Brad Pitt look pretty in that movie.

1939 — British actress Vivien Leigh on the set of Gone with the Wind, based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell and directed by Victor Fleming. — Image by © Metro-Goldwin-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

Gone with the Wind is a favorite movie of mine as well. I used to lay on the couch and watch it whenever I was home sick from school. My freshman year of high school, we had to read the book. So, again, this is a situation in which I’d seen the movie first. And I know the romanticization of the Antebellum South is problematic, but Scarlett is such a vivid character that I can’t help enjoying both the book and film.

Another book/movie combo that makes my list: The Ghost Writer. Robert Harris both wrote the novel and the screenplay, so that probably goes a long way toward the two hanging together well. And you know I can’t say no to Ewan McGregor.

Finally, an oldie but goldie: The Haunting. I mean the 1963 version. I love, love, love Shirley Jackson’s novella “The Haunting of Hill House,” and this movie did it justice. Of course, maybe that’s because my friends and I stayed up late one night to watch it and scared ourselves silly. Fond memories can color one’s perception of how good a book or movie really is, I suppose.

What book adaptations have you enjoyed? Maybe later I’ll post about some terrible ones. I think it can be tricky to capture a book well on film, which is why good screenwriting is so important. Some day I still hope to see St. Peter in Chains make it to the screen . . . If and when it does, let’s hope it turns out well!

90s Kid Book Tag

I wasn’t exactly a “kid” in the 90s. In 1990 I finished eighth grade and started high school. But I still want to try this 90s Kid Book Tag.

The Rules

  1. Please, please, please steal this tag and spread it around! I only ask that you link it back to The Literary Phoenix so that I can see everyone’s answers!
  2. Tag, you’re it! Even if you weren’t a kid in the 90s, so long as you’re old enough to remember the 90s, I want to hear about those memories! And if you do participate, don’t forget to tag someone.
  3. Have fun!

Gotta catch ’em all!

Pokemon was big in the 90s. But we’re here for books. So: Which author do you need every book from? For me it’s Tana French. I received a copy of In the Woods when I was a reviewer for Blogcritics and it hooked me. Even though it took me forever to read The Likeness because I couldn’t immediately forgive French for dumping Rob and going on to another character. Now, though, I understand that’s kind of the point of the series, and I’ve learned to love it.

Ready, AIM . . .

Remember AOL Instant Messenger? How great it was to chat online before mobile phones let us text? What book(s) connected you with your best friend? Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I can’t even begin to describe how those books affected us. I checked Interview with the Vampire out from the school library (it’s a wonder our school had it) and read it in secret. Guess it’s not a secret now! Sorry, Mom.

Monstrous!

Furbies were all the rage. Well, okay, I didn’t have one, nor did I want one. Bottom line, though, Furbies were demon-possessed robots of pure evil that would go off in the middle of the night at random and never shut up. (I only know this because my children now have them.) In the book world, what book seemed like a good idea but turned out to be, well, a bad one? I have to say, nothing immediately springs to mind. I’ve probably blocked it out. I’ve read plenty of disappointing books in my day. Recently I tried to read The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman. I’d enjoyed The Lake of Dead Languages, and the idea behind The Ghost Orchid sounded really intriguing, but I just couldn’t like the characters. I wouldn’t say the book itself was a bad idea, only that it didn’t work for me. I’ll add that I feel that way about pretty much anything written by Roald Dahl, too—his books are supposedly classics, but I’ve never liked any of them.

Bye, Bye, Bye

N’Sync was the big thing. And while we still have Justin Timberlake to entertain us, what book did you hate to say goodbye to? So many! Anything by Zilpha Keatley Snyder for starters, The Changeling in particular. I really identified with that book. Du Maurier’s Rebecca, too, which swept me away.

Barth Burgers

You Can’t Do That on Television ended in 1990, so I guess it still technically counts? On that show, Barth would serve up disgusting meals at a restaurant one had to wonder how it ever stayed open. What book did other people eat up that you just couldn’t stomach? I’ll admit I never tried to read them, but I remember my friends going on about Francesca Lia Block books . . . I also never read Goosebumps or Christopher Pike. I feel like I sort of skipped a layer of reading in my life; I went straight from Judy Blume to Dean Koontz and never looked back.

Kill Me Now

Oregon Trail is something I hear people talk about a lot, but for whatever reason we never played it where I lived. Still, I’m now very familiar with the idea behind the game. What book made you wish you’d died of dysentery? For me, The Scarlet Letter was a real trial. I also don’t at all enjoy Moby-Dick.

On Permanent Rotation

Mix tapes (or CDs) were all the rage. It was the biggest sign of affection to create one for someone. We didn’t have MP3s, after all, so making a tape or CD took real time. And it was a great way to introduce people to your favorite songs or bands. (My husband made me a mix tape when we first started dating, and Marillion’s “Kayleigh” remains one of my favorite songs.) Which three books would you put on your “playlist” by recommending them to anyone, anywhere, anytime? I often find myself recommending Rivers of London (aka Midnight Riot) by Ben Aaronovitch. Also, A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice and The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero.

Dialing In

Who can forget the sound of the modem connecting? And how it took forever to connect, often only to be ruined by someone either picking up the phone or calling? What book took ages to read? For me it was Watchers by Dean [R.] Koontz. I loved that book, and I’m a quick reader, but I remember that one took time, maybe because I was savoring it.

Water, Water . . .

In the 90s you couldn’t escape things like Adam Sandler. What book do you feel like you see referenced everywhere and is in everything? The Harry Potter books, of course. Those books have entered the general lexicon. Also Shakespeare.

No Peeking!

Cover your eyes and count to ten. Did you look through your fingers to see which way everyone ran to hide? What book did you read the end of first because you just couldn’t stand the suspense? I’m proud to say I’ve never done this. In fact, I can’t stand the thought of doing it. For me, all the fun in reading a book is in getting to the end.

Red Slice Anyone?

We all have fond memories of old foods and drinks that are no longer with us. I remember drinking Red Slice in the UT cafeteria. What are some of your favorite bookish snacks? I find when I’m reading, weirdly enough I crave bread and butter or toast.

Spooky Mulder

Did you love The X-Files? Did Eugene Tooms or the Flukeman rob you of sleep? (For me it was Brad Dourif in “Beyond the Sea.” Something so much more creepy about a realistic killer.) Name a book that kept you up at night. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Remains one of my favorites by him, too.

Mr. Wizard

Like You Can’t Do That on Television, Mr. Wizard’s World didn’t last much beyond the 80s. Still, I learned plenty from him, and from MacGyver, too. Name a book that taught you something new. Though fiction, King and Goddess by Judith Tarr taught me about the female pharaoh Hatshepsut and engendered my interest in ancient history in general. The Memoirs of Cleopatra likewise gave me a deeper vision of that queen’s life.

I hope you enjoyed this book tag. Pretty extensive! Try it yourself if you’re brave enough! Or just tell me about your favorite books in the comments.

Watership Down

I’ve written before about my particular connection to this novel, which is about rabbits in search of a new warren. I read it in sixth grade. I was attending a private school at the time, one so small that the fifth and sixth grades were together in one room, and even still there were only 11 of us.

This was the kind of school where girls wore skirts (though there was no set uniform, just many rules), and each morning we had to kneel to be sure our skirts touched the floor. We had to memorize long passages from the biblical book of Proverbs. We took a character-building class that featured a lot of Zig Ziglar. Physical education for the girls consisted of ballet. Lots and lots of ballet. And cheerleading. I won academic awards in Science and History as well as one for “Thoroughness,” whatever that was supposed to mean. That I did my homework completely? Seriously, no idea.

My classmates liked that I could draw (Garfield and a dog based on the same general idea as Garfield) and asked me to show them how.

And they wondered about this big book I was reading. So one day, as we were sitting outside, I told them the story of Watership Down. They were intrigued and began to call me Hazel-Rah. Then they began adopting rabbit names for themselves, too, until every recess was a game of running up and down the playground hill pretending to be rabbits. The boys were Efrafa and raided our warren and we chased them away, again and again.

The teachers and administration were disturbed. There was nothing really wrong with the game, or the book, but that it had created such furor, and that it was so out of the ordinary . . . bothered them.

The next year I was moved to the public school system. An unmitigated disaster. But later some of those students who’d been in sixth grade with me joined me again in high school. (The private school had suffered some schism in its congregation and been unable to sustain itself.) They remembered me as Hazel-Rah, and I remembered them by their rabbit names, and it felt like a small victory. I had outlasted the place that had condemned me for my broad imagination and my desire to spread it to the masses.

2016 has been a crap year on a number of fronts, but its harshness is most quantified by the long list of famous people who have passed away over these 12 months. Just today we lost Carrie Fisher, but we also lost Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. The Black Rabbit of Inlé has come to fetch him home. May he enjoy green fields and primroses everlasting.

Best of 2016

I’ve started to see the lists popping up online. Even though there is still one month left in 2016, people are ready to call their favorites, from books to movies to television shows. So I thought about what I read and watched this year, and here are a few notables:

Books

The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young. This pseudo-paranormal mystery set in the bayous of Louisiana is both atmospheric and fast-moving. I raced through it and enjoyed it quite a bit.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Not a 2016 release, but I finally got around to this one and, though long and deep, it’s so well written. Was perfect for the long flights to and from New York.

Dark Dawning by Christine Rains. A novella, first in a series, and it sets up just a very interesting world full of shape-shifters and Inuit mythology.

Lorelei’s Lyric by D.B. Sieders. A twist on mermaids/sirens.

Movies

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. A new window into the world of Harry Potter… pre-Potter.

Sing Street. Just really cute, even if it is mostly a bunch of music videos hung on a very sparse plot frame.

Snowden. An interesting perspective on how and why Edward Snowden did what he did.

The Imposter. A documentary about how a French con artist convinced a family in Texas he was their missing son/brother.

Kubo and the Two Strings. More gorgeous work from Laika.

The Nice Guys. Typical Shane Black, so if you like his stuff…

Zootopia. Above and beyond as far as children’s animated features go.

Love & Friendship. A delightful Jane Austen adaptation.

I know there’s a lot I have yet to see (I do have tickets to Rogue One!), but of the things I watched this past year, the above stand out.

Television

The Crown. I was sucked right into this drama about the start of Elizabeth II’s reign and can’t wait for more.

Westworld. I resisted, and do continue to resist on some levels, but I can’t deny that this is a well-written, well-acted, well-produced program. (I feel similarly about Game of Thrones and The Leftovers. Must be an HBO drama thing.)

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Everything Doctor Who should be, used to be, and no longer is. In short, a whole lot of absurd fun.

Documentary Now! Fun, though the second season was not as good as the first IMHO.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Probably the single thing I most look forward to each week. (And now on break. *sob*)

I also watch Brooklyn Nine-Nine and am just dabbling in Superstore. Started Designated Survivor and AHS: Roanoke and Timeless and need to get back to those… Television is getting harder to keep up with because there is so much and it’s all dumped in one go instead of airing weekly. But hey, even the weekly stuff piles up on my DVR, sort of like all the books I mean to read that pile up on my nightstand or in my Kindle. The above, then, are just shows that definitely had me hooked over the year.

So what about you? Any favorites this past year? Recommendations? Anything to look forward to in 2017? Let me know in the comments!

Virtual Book Fair

Today the Virtual Book Fair kicks off on Facebook. Visit my “booth” here. You can win prizes: an Amazon gift card, an ebook of your choice, or a signed copy of Manifesting Destiny. Enter two ways, (1) Liking my Facebook page and (2) signing up for my newsletter. If you do both, you get two entries. See how easy it is? Winners chosen at random on November 18.

thumb_img_5115_1024

And, yeah, The Fall and Rise of Peter Stoller is just 99 cents on Amazon (both US and UK sites) throughout the weekend. So go grab it now if you haven’t already!

While you’re here, I’m going to enter another plea for your help with these kitties. They’re not looking for homes, just looking to stay in the home they already have. Please consider donating, and if you can’t do that, at least spread the word. Or buy the shirt and, as I’ve mentioned, if you email me a copy of your receipt I’ll send you a copy of one of my books as a thank-you.

Look, Tom Hiddleston loves kitties. You should, too!
Look, Tom Hiddleston loves kitties. You should, too!

(Note that Mr. Hiddleston has in no way endorsed this gofundme. But maybe he would if he knew?)