In Which Lisa Spouts Excitement Over Mundane Things (And One Not Mundane At All Thing)

Well, not truly mundane things, but not directly writing-related things, either.

I have been away from this blog for a little while now, and there are a couple of reasons for this. Mainly, my laptop was on the verge of death. Teetering at the edge of the dark chasmy abyss, as it were.

And well, the past couple of weeks have been BUSY.

First there was Books are for Lovers on Valentine’s Day, and this was The Mr and my haul:

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Jasper Fforde, Brandon Sanderson, and some bookplates, because one can never have too many bookplates. True fact.

And then after doing two days of overtime at work (that’s 9 days of graveyards in a row, folks!) The Mr and I ran around spending our tax return on a new laptop (YAY!) and just as if not even more exciting: a washer and dryer.

Now. I know that doesn’t SEEM more exciting, especially as they are used and when all is said and done, the laundry still has to be done, but at least it doesn’t have to be done at a laundromat a city over anymore! (Yes, really) Oh the glory of just throwing in a load of wash when you need to. It is a wonderful thing.

guardiansfallThe really exciting thing about the last week, though, is that I finished editing The Guardian’s Fall, the third and final installment of The Guardian Circle Series by Isabelle Santiago. YOU GUYS. I am SO EXCITED about this book! It wraps the series up just beautifully and I can’t tell you how much I love it. I’m super proud of my girl Isabelle, too, because she had to push herself really hard to get this book where it was (and I was not going to let it go out not fully formed!), but she did such a fabulous job.

If you haven’t yet had the delight of looking into The Guardian Circle Series yet, I am officially inviting you. Book one, The Guardian’s Mark is available for a limited time for $0.99!

What you’ll find here:

- Fantastic world-building, including a faceted, multi-cultural world centered on one (questionably balanced) religion

- Elemental magic, which is my favorite kind!

- Mesmerizing forbidden romance

- Underdogs and moral dilemmas

- Friendships that cross lifetimes

- Did I mention great world-building?

Pick up a copy of Guardian’s Mark today. Book 2 is also available, and Book 3 is just around the corner!

Books Read in 2013(ish) & My 2014 Reading Goal

Books read in 2013

Graphic by me & Goodreads :)

Last year was a good reading year. I had a lovely pile of 63 books read, which is maybe a record for me. Here’s a glance at some of the things I read.

I started off my year with War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, which delighted me with how well-researched it was and how logical, along with the realization that it took place only fifty years after the Charles Dickens book I was reading at the time… that was a surprising little realization. I then took a short trip back to the Godspeed for Beth Revis’ enovella “As They Slip Away,” and finished  the first of the Beyonders books by Brandon Mull. My husband and I were left conflicted as everyone else as we finished Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and I listened to some old stuff—The Return of Tarzan, Chronicles of Avonlea, and The Beasts of Tarzan. A friend bought me a cute kid’s book called Froggy’s First Kiss by Jonathan London for Books are for Lovers on Valentine’s Day.

And then the first out-of-the-ballpark love of a book. I finally read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I loved this book so much that I listened to the audio over again six months later. Not even kidding. While I am definitely a book rereader, this is usually not true within a year.

Then I steamed through Slam by Nick Hornby, Odd and the Frost Giant which was a delicious find from Neil Gaiman, and The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan, which was nice and Amy Tan-y, if you know what I mean.

And then I started my voyage into the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan. If you like MG and you haven’t read this series… you really, really should. I am not quite finished with it since I was trading off between that and lots of other things, but I am enjoying it so, so, much. There’s sword-fighting, archery, light romance and intrigue galore. I’ve gone through seven of the ten books so far and I love them!

In the Spring I read One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde, which was a fantastic addition to the Thursday Next series which is so close to my heart. I also listened to a string of just-for-fun audio books, highlighted by  The Help by Kathryn Stockett (just as good as the movie), that book clubiest of books, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, (good enough that I might pick up a secondhand copy), Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (a little on the older side of YA, but a great guy’s read).

And then. And then, and then, and then.

I listened to Daughter of Smoke & Bones and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor (interrupted by The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex, brilliant MG that can’t go without mentioning). Taylor’s books were so delicious, and such big, sweeping things that I couldn’t help but love them. I am really looking forward to the third one, which is due out sometime this year (April?).

My string of luck continued as I listened to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This was one of my top reads of 2013. Fantasy, magic, beauty… and that age-old desire to run away with the circus.

I fell in love with Nora Ephron after having loved bits of her work all my life, by listening to her I Remember Nothing and I Feel Bad About My Neck. Got to celebrate literature with Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life and Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, along with its importance in Fahrenheit 451I also enjoyed another Thursday Next book, The Woman Who Died A Lot, which was delectable and odd, just as Jasper’s work should be.

And as the year ended, I was working my way through The Wheel of Time series (for better or for worse! but The Mr swears the end is amazing) and The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, which is a lot of fun. If you want to see a complete list of my 2013 reads, you can find it on Goodreads, here.

This year, I am cutting my reading goal down to 35 books. Why? Because I have some research reading to do. Big, fat books about fairy tales and mystical places and creatures and monsters and fairies.

Of course, I’m also smack-dab in the middle of The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (oh yes, I read The Raven Boys, too and loved it enough to share it with The Mr). I’m pretty excited for my reading this year.

Nora Ephron Can Write About Anything

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Nora Ephron, as you probably know, passed away in June of last year. When I heard the news I was firstly saddened because this woman had written a couple of my favorite movies, some of which I didn’t even know were hers. Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, of course. When Harry Met Sally, well, not my absolute favorite, but maybe because I’ve only seen it once. MichaelMy Blue Heaven. The main reason I adore both Joan Cusack and Rick Moranis, and my first reason for loving Steve Martin, was My Blue Heaven.

But I also realized when she died, that I knew absolutely nothing about Nora Ephron. I knew she had a few books, but for some reason I had thought that her books were an offshoot of her movie escapades. That she was a filmmaker first, and then a little bit of a writer.

Nora Ephron. Who was a journalist and playwright and novelist long before I so much as thought of existing.

I was a little ashamed of myself, and vowed that I would get me hence and read some of her books. So recently, I did just that.

More to the point, I read a couple of her memoir books from the last couple of years. There was a time when I was young and fiendish for fiction (I won’t say how recently that has ended) that I probably would never have picked up a memoir, even if it was by and about someone who interested me. I think I can finally say that this is no longer the case. That I can finally revel in the fact that life can be infinitely more interesting and memorable than some fiction, and especially such a life.

I picked up audio copies of I Remember Nothing and I Feel Bad About My Neck on my phone via Overdrive, and was pleased as pink to hear from Ephron herself. Some of it was a little melancholy—the realizations of how old she was, and that she would pass away soon enough, realizing how many of her friends were already gone—but so much of it was fascinating, and all of it was wonderfully presented. She talked about working in the White House, her luck and the gumption it took to get her where she got in journalism. She talked about her mother, who she had an almost Amy-Tan-complex relationship with. And she didn’t get overly sentimental about anything—except perhaps about how her neck used to look.

And that is her great strength in both of these books. She presents the story as it happened, with few judgments as to whether any of it was good or bad, which of course lets you feel it for yourself.

So, while it took some time after her death for me to do so, I was immensely pleased to get to know Nora Ephron a little bit more. And extra pleased by the idea that if I had been older (and let’s face it, probably better dressed) I probably could have gone up to her and convinced her she was supposed to know me somehow. She says she remembered nothing, but she lived a lot, and is comfortable talking about it all, which makes her books unmissable.

Five Things I Loved about The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus is the story of two magicians raised from childhood into a competition with each other—though at first they do not know who they are competing against, or what the rules of the competition are. All they know is that they are supposed to be extraordinary. And eventually, they discover that their competition is to take place in the mysterious Night Circus, or Le Cirque des Rêves (or the Circus of Dreams). The circus is really their canvas, and thus it becomes something more than just a normal circus. It becomes magical. Here are some of my favorite things about this book:

night-circus-cover-low-res1) The circus itself.

Everything in the Circus is black and white. And the tents described are stunning, to say the least. A garden made entirely of ice. A maze that climbs up, but that you can jump down from without harming yourself at any height. A true labyrinth. A wishing tree. And those are just a few. I love the imagination that went into these lovely things, and I wish I could see them.

2) Except that you almost can see them.

You know how some books get bogged down with description? There are some VERY thorough descriptions in this book… but you never feel as if they’re weighing on you as a reader, because the things they are describing are so beautiful or unique or fascinating. I have such a clear idea of what some of the circus looks like, because Morgenstern showed me exactly what she wanted me to see. I listened to this on audio, but the gorgeous details alone make me want to buy the physical book so I can leaf through it at my leisure.

3) The reader is invited into the circus, too.

I know this part throws some people off, but there are bits here and there throughout the book in second person (that’s using “YOU” instead of “He/She” or “I”). Some people are so unused to this that it really threw them out of the book and made them uncomfortable, but for me this made the book so much more. I let these second person bits take me away, and I really felt as if I was being enveloped in the magic of the circus, right along with the other patrons.

4) The perfect escapism here.

What I love really, is that this book is everything a circus is supposed to be. Mystical. Wonderful. A bit of something beyond everyday life. This book made me feel like a child who could believe in absolutely anything. And that it can be beautiful on top of everything else. Maybe I’m being repetitive here. But really, the book is So. Full. Of. Magic.

5) The End

I have to admit, I was expecting this ending to tear my heart out and stomp on it. And while I was a little surprised at how not traumatized I was by the ending, I did love it. Finishing this book was like a hot cup of cocoa… rich and satisfying.

And as a bonus, if you listen to the audiobook, it’s read by Jim Dale. Who happened to once play Phineas Taylor Barnum in the Broadway musical Barnum (one of my favorites!) (and you know, of Barnum & Bailey?) so he is really the absolutely perfect person to read this.

In truth, there wasn’t a lot about this book that I didn’t love. Well, except maybe that there was a touch of uncomfortable eeriness here and there—but really, that’s all part of the deal when there’s a circus involved. ;)

Highly, highly recommend this one.

What is the most magical book you’ve read?

Daughter of Smoke & Bone and Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor – A Musing

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These. Books.

Okay, I’m going to preface this by saying that I am not really a fan of angel/demon stories. A small part of this is because I’m religious, but mostly because… blech. Boring. I just don’t think there is much you can do with that approaching it via the conventional methods. Fallen angel. Misguided angel. Whatever.

The Daughter of Smoke & Bone books, on the other hand, is so richly imagined that I just want to wrap my mind inside it for hours at a time. Which of course is exactly what you want from a book. I devoured these books on audio. Which isn’t hard when you work graves, but that’s hardly the point. The point is: I loved them.

While this series is indeed about angels and demons, it is really about two fantastical nations that are ancient,  rich with history, and happen to have been at war with each other since time out of mind.

I can’t even really go into how the main characters fit into this without giving a lot away, but I can tell you that I am so, so impressed with this world. The descriptions are beautiful, the characterizations rich, and the monsters are, well, monstrous. What I love about it most, maybe, is that it is filled with shades of grey. There are good characters and bad characters, but they aren’t all on one side of the battle or the other. And they don’t always know what they’re fighting for.

And oh, Taylor has a knack for ripping your heart out. Which personally, is something I love in a good story. Just when you think that things are about to get better, they get so much bone-crushingly worse. On the flipside of the coin, though, just when your heart has been ripped through the shredder, something happens like a gift—a boon—something that tells you that after everything, Taylor is a merciful god, at least.

Also, the settings are superb and full of escapism/wanderlust fancy that made me want to quit my job and move to Europe. Ish.

If you haven’ read this yet, go out and get it. It is fabulous. You will not be sorry. Well, until you realize that the next installment doesn’t come out until 2014.

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By the by, this Thursday I’ll be starting a new weekly series involving literary nerdliness. Come back and check it out!

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

oddandthefrostFrom Goodreads:

The winter isn’t ending. Nobody knows why.
And Odd has run away from home, even though he can barely walk and has to use a crutch.
Out in the forest he encounters a bear, a fox, and an eagle – three creatures with a strange story to tell.
Now Odd is faced with a stranger journey than he had ever imagined.
A journey to save Asgard, City of the Norse Gods, from the Frost Giants who have invaded it.
It’s going to take a very special kind of boy to defeat the most dangerous of all the Frost Giants and rescue the mighty Gods. Someone cheerful and infuriating and clever.
Someone just like Odd.

I checked an audio version of this out via my lovely Overdrive app a few weeks ago, and was just delighted with it. Neil Gaiman, doing Norse mythology for kids and reading the book himself. The book was less than two hours long in audio, and flew by.

Like many people, I don’t know a lot more about Norse mythology than the Thor and Avengers movies have taught me, so I was pleasantly surprised when some of that movie mythology turned out to be legit. I mean, clearly Thor was the god of thunder and Odin was the king of Asgard and Loki was Thor’s brother, the god of mischief. Those things I knew. I didn’t know that Loki really was a frost giant, abandoned, though.

This story isn’t really about the gods, though. It’s a story about a young boy with a bad foot and an irrepressible spirit. Odd smiles though he has no reason to. And he saves all of Asgard because he has that special power of smiling when he has no real reason to. I can’t say much more without spoiling the book, but I highly recommend this one. It may have been written for children, but The Mr and I both enjoyed it thoroughly.

What’s your favorite Norse mythology book? Do you have one? Oh, and happy April Fool’s Day. :)

Five Things I Love about The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The_Scorpio_RacesRemember how I said that I was going to read books by my favorites this year? Well my first go at that was The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. I have long loved Stiefvater’s work. I adored Shiver, then was entranced with Linger, was almost disbelieving when I loved Ballad more, and thought the rounding out of the Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy was wholly satisfying and beautifully written, to boot.

And while I was moving half a dozen times and spent a year or so while jobless and dirt poor, not to mention as I said in my last post, guilting myself into reading books I’d had longer but wanted to read less first (that’s a mouthful!)… Maggie wrote two books that I hadn’t read. Actually, that’s a bit of a lie. She wrote four. I didn’t read Linger or Forever until after both books were published. In any case, I was still playing catch up. So finally, despite the fact that I was already reading half a dozen books according to Goodreads… I just picked up Scorpio RacesAnd I ran through it. Here are the things I loved most:

1) The setting is 100% solid. Thisby felt like a real place. A place you could charter a boat to, and find it not much changed from when the book was set… which is not entirely clear, but hardly needs to be.

2) The horses. I was never one of those girls who drew horses and read horse books and wanted a horse for my birthday when I was a little girl… I wanted a unicorn. But seriously, while I would have relished the chance to learn to ride or spend time with horses, that just wasn’t in my life or something my family could afford, so it wasn’t something I thought about much. But it wasn’t the fact that there were horses in the book that impressed me. It was how they were written. I had a professor who said once that the hardest characters to write well are babies and animals, and that is something I’ve always believed, too. The horses in The Scorpio Races rang true.

3) The small-town feminists. Oh Peg Gratton and Dory Maud, I enjoyed every word out of you two. These are women who lead men around by the nose by pretending to be part of their game, and they had their eye out for young, eager, gender-role-challenging Puck. I loved how, rather than taking Puck under their wing exactly, they pointed her in the right direction and pushed her forward.

4) The family relationships. Puck’s relationship with her brothers, more to the point. Finn reminded me of my own little brother, not in his character, but in the feelings he evoked in me—protective, parental feelings, where you are sometimes surprised at the ingenuity and different person-ness of someone you helped raised. And Gabe. While I spent a good majority of the book being angry towards Gabe, I ended up empathizing with and even sort of loving him. It was so easy to understand, his desperation to leave. To have a life that wasn’t constant work and challenge and monotony and death. I can understand that.

5) The love story. This was exactly what I want out of a love story. Which is to say, nothing like most young adult romances (or adult, for that matter, as to the few I’ve read) are like. It is not about physical attraction or even romantic tension. Instead it is about finding someone who is so in tune with how you see the world that they become a part of you without you ever meaning for them to be. It is about respect and mutual understanding and being driven in just the same way. It was so, so satisfying.

These are not all the reasons to read The Scorpio Races, but they are what I loved best.

And since you’ve probably read it well before me, what did you think?