Skip to content

Books Read in 2016: A Recap of My Reading Challenge #amreading #bookreport

Sunday, January 1, 2017


This year, I decided that for my reading challenge, I’d do an A to Z challenge. You can see how I came up with it here. (As for the other part of my challenge with the books for my grad school reading group, it petered out about halfway through the six-month list of books.)

Now that the year is over, here’s what I read in 2016. The link on each title will go to Goodreads in a new tab. (See my star ratings matrix here.)

Austen, Jane — Persuasion [Annual Austen | 5 stars]

Balogh, Mary — Only Beloved (The Survivors’ Club, #7) [Historical Romance, Regency | 4 stars]

Cather, Willa — O Pioneers! [Historical Fiction, Classic American Lit | 4 stars]

Doescher, Ian — William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope [Star Wars | 5 stars]

    Also Read:

  • Dickens, Charles — Bleak House [Classic British Lit | 4 stars]

Evanovich, Janet — Wife for Hire (Elsie Hawkins #3) [Contemporary Romance | 3.5 stars]

Forester, C. S. — Hornblower During the Crisis (Hornblower Saga: Chronological Order, #4) [Historical Fiction, Georgian/Napoleonic | 5 stars]

    Also Read:

  • Featherstone, Charlotte — Seduction & Scandal (The Brethren Guardians, #1) [Historical Romance, Victorian | 4.25 stars]
  • Foster, Alan Dean — The Force Awakens [Star Wars movie novelization | 4 stars]

Gray, Claudia — Star Wars: Bloodline [Star Wars | 4 stars]

Harrison, Audrey — The Captain’s Wallflower [Historical Romance, Regency | 2.5 stars]

Ireland, Liz — Trouble in Paradise [Historical Romance, American 19th Century | 3 stars]

The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson.
Johnson, Liz — The Red Door Inn (Prince Edward Island Dreams, #1) [Contemporary Inspy Romance | 4.5 stars]

Keene, Carolyn — The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew: #1) [Young Adult, Mystery | 4 stars]

    Also Read:

  • Kenyon, Sherrilyn — Night Pleasures (Dark-Hunter, #1) [Paranormal Romance | 1 star/DNF]

Lorret, Vivienne — Tempting Mr. Weatherstone (Wallflower Weddings, #0.5) [Historical Romance, Regency | 4 stars]

McCullough, David — 1776 [Nonfiction, American Revolution | 4 stars]

Novik, Naomi — Uprooted [Young Adult Fantasy | 3 stars]

Oliveira, Robin — My Name is Mary Sutter [Historical Fiction, American Civil War | 2 stars]

Phillips, Susan Elizabeth — Nobody’s Baby But Mine (Chicago Stars, #3) [Contemporary Romance | 1 star/DNF]

    Also Read:

  • Petersen, Jenna — From London With Love (Lady Spies, #1) [Historical Romance, Regency | 2 stars]

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn | Review on
Quinn, Spencer — Dog on It (A Chet and Bernie Mystery, #1) [Humorous Mystery | 4.25 stars]

Rowling, J. K. — Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone [Young Adult Fantasy | 4 stars]

St. James, Simone — The Other Side of Midnight [Historical Paranormal Romance, 1920s | 4.25 stars]

Thomas, Sherry — The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, #1) [Young Adult Historical Fantasy, Victorian | 4.25 stars]

Ulrich, Lucie — Diamonds Or Donuts [Contemporary Sweet Romance | 3.25 stars]

Vatsal, Radha — A Front Page Affair (Kitty Weeks Mystery, #1) [Historical Mystery, 1910s New York | 3.75 stars]

    Also Read:

  • Valentin, Barbara — False Start (Assignment: Romance, #1) [Contemporary Romance | 1 star/DNF]

Wilder, Laura Ingalls — Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography (Pamela Smith Hill, Ed.) [Nonfiction/Memoir, American 19th Century | 5 stars]
‘Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography’ | Review Part 1
‘Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography’ | Review Part 2
‘Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography’ | Review Part 3
Pioneer Girl

Yankovic, Al — My New Teacher and Me! (audiobook read by the author) [Children’s Book | 4.5 stars]

    Also Read:

  • Yankovic, Al — When I Grow Up (audiobook read by the author) [Children’s Book | 4.5 stars]

Zarr, Sara and Tara Altebrando– Roomies [Young/New Adult | 3.5 stars]

If I had to pick a favorite book from this list, it would have to be Pioneer Girl, in combination with re-reading the Little House books along side it.

If you have a recap of your 2016 reading list, please share a link in the comments. What was your favorite book you read in 2016?

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Goodbye, 2016. Hello, 2017. New Year, Revised Goals.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

As I look back over the past twelve months, with as much stress as it’s brought, I have to be proud of myself. I’ve read more books this year (for pleasure) than I have in more than a decade. I’ve lost weight (about 40 pounds). And I’ve done more blogging and fiction writing this year than I have in the past several. So, all in all, I can’t say that 2016 was quite such a bad year.

Oh, yeah, and I did this, too:

What I Wish I’d Done Better in 2016
I always wish I’d done everything better, so I guess I should say the top thing I wish I’d done better. I wish I’d eased myself back into writing the way I’ve done it in the past. While doing the FirstDraft120 challenge has been helpful for me—and I’m by no means quitting on it!—trying to jump right in and write a full novel wasn’t the greatest idea. Especially not when I’d gotten completely out of practice of writing at all for the past several years. I’d give you some kind of sports analogy of an athlete who gets injured and spends several years not doing anything physical at all trying to jump back into pro-level sports, but I think you know what I’m talking about.

So instead of castigating myself for not meeting the goal I set back in the beginning of October of finishing a first draft of a new historical romance novel—or, worse, just throwing up my hands and quitting—I’m taking my own advice and restructuring/resetting my goal.

For the remainder of FirstDraft120 (until 1/31/17), my new goal is to do something fiction-writing related for at least one hour (combined) every day.

That means that I might work on writing up a treatment of a new story idea and cast the characters. I might write a scene or two of the story I started for FirstDraft120. I might work on character development for that story or for others I’ve started and then not done anything with over the past year or two.

And I might work on my “imaginary husband” story. Which is what I did for part of the time in the car with my parents traveling to see family in Louisiana last week.

I spent a little while feeling guilty about writing on that instead of on the Spymaster story. But then I made myself stop. You see, almost twenty-five years ago when I had my first bout with extreme depression, I wrote myself out of it by writing something that started out as a “where will we all be in five years” scenario for me and my closest friends from college and turned into a 200,000-word unfinished fictional story that got me through a whole lot of stress and out of which developed Bonneterre, Louisiana, and my first published trilogy.

And when I reminded myself of that, I realized, subconsciously, I’ve been trying to do the same thing with the “imaginary husband” stuff but negating any good it might be doing for me by making myself feel guilty and telling myself it’s not worthwhile.

So in 2017, my goal is to write/work on something fictional every day, whether it’s something I think might be publishable eventually or something just for me. Because my goal at this point (and should have been when I started the FD120 challenge) shouldn’t be to “write a publishable book,” but to “relearn the joy that writing daily can bring.”

That’s also why I’m giving myself a time goal instead of a word-count goal. Because it isn’t the words I produce that are important, but making sure I spend time doing it daily. (I’ll be restarting my tracking spreadsheet in order to track this goal, too.)

Have a Goal for Every Day in 2017
In addition to doing writing-related work for at least an hour every day in 2017, my other goal is to have a goal for every single day: something I want to do, to learn, to accomplish, to complete, to start, etc. For this, I must give a tip of the hat to Mike from one of my favorite YouTube channels, Press Record. Though I’ve known this for many, many years—that I do much better on a daily basis if I’m on a schedule and working toward something specific—Mike said it in just the right way at just the right time (yesterday) for me to be able to articulate it in my own mind. (Skip ahead to 16:23 in the video, if it doesn’t automatically start there. Also, “Nora” is one of his dogs.)

What are your goals/revised goals for 2017?

Books Read in 2016: ROOMIES by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando (3.5 stars) #amreading

Thursday, December 22, 2016

by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Audiobook read by Becca Battoe and Emily Eiden
My rating: 3.5 stars

Book Summary:
When East Coast native Elizabeth receives her freshman-year roommate assignment, she shoots off an e-mail to coordinate the basics: television, microwave, mini-fridge. That first note to San Franciscan Lauren sparks a series of e-mails that alters the landscape of each girl’s summer — and raises questions about how two girls who are so different will ever share a dorm room.

As the countdown to college begins, life at home becomes increasingly complex. With family relationships and childhood friendships strained by change, it suddenly seems that the only people Elizabeth and Lauren can rely on are the complicated new boys in their lives . . . and each other. Even though they’ve never met.

National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr and acclaimed author Tara Altebrando join forces for a novel about growing up, leaving home, and getting that one fateful e-mail that assigns your college roommate.

My GR Status Update(s):
12/15. . .marked as: currently-reading

12/16. . .25.0%

12/21. . .marked as: read

My Review:
About 3.5 stars.

It’s fitting that I ran across this book right now and decided to read (listen to) it to fulfill the “Z” opening on my A to Z reading challenge for 2016. Why fitting? Because I just finished watching Season 4 of Gilmore Girls—the season which follows Rory to her first year at Yale.

This book covers the summer between high school graduation and college matriculation for two young women: New Jersey native Elizabeth (“EB”) and San Franciscan Lauren. Both girls have family situations that make them antsy to get away for college—though Lauren, as the oldest in a very large family in a very small house, had requested a single room. So while only child EB is looking forward to having a roommate—a surrogate sibling, perhaps—Lauren is a little disappointed to learn she’s going to have to continue sharing a room with someone.

The premise of the story is the building relationship, via mostly email, between EB and Lauren once they learn they’ll be roommates their freshman year at Berkeley. It follows them through the awkward ups and downs of figuring out how much to share and being careful not to make too many inferences about each other based on perceived tone and briefness of certain messages.

In addition to this core relationship, both girls also start to develop new romantic relationships. One of the things I appreciated about the authors’ approaches to these two characters is that both girls, though having dated/had boyfriends throughout high school, are virgins when this story opens. Which made their developing romantic relationships even that much more interesting/tension-filled.

So, with all of this positive stuff, why only 3.5 stars?

EB. She really annoyed me. And it was compounded by the fact that the person (girl?) reading her part of the book had a horribly shrill girly/whiny voice that started grating on my nerves around the same time as the character of EB started making bad decisions and behaving in a way that wasn’t at all sympathy-inducing (just the opposite, in fact). And while the resolution brings her to a knowledge of how she’s behaved, it still didn’t negate the fact that she’s not someone I would be friends with—nor someone I would enjoy being around for a very long period of time, because she annoyed me so much. So having half the book in her POV is what brought down my enjoyment of it.

However, those are personal feelings/reactions to this book. It’s an interesting look at how two different people from opposite coasts and from completely different backgrounds spend their last summer before college—and get to know their first college roommate in an age of instant access through email, text messaging, social media, etc.

My rating matrix:
5 STARS = one of the best I’ve ever read
4 STARS = a great read, highly recommended
3 STARS = it was okay
2 STARS = I didn’t enjoy it all that much, not recommended
1 STAR = DNF (did not finish)

View all my reviews on Goodreads

#FirstDraft120 Day 68: It’s THORsday! #amwriting #1k1hr #handwriting

Thursday, December 8, 2016


On Thursdays, we do an alternate version of Timer Tuesday—instead of challenging ourselves to sit at the computer and try to crank out as many words as fast as we can, the challenge is to get away from the computer.

fd120-thorsdayWhat Does THORsday Mean?
It’s pretty simple. Our writing challenge for today is:

What that means is that for the length of time you designate (half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour, etc.), you will write by hand (on actual paper). You will turn off all of your Internet-connected devices (or put them away/get away from them). And you will find a remote spot in which to work—in other words, don’t do this at the same place where you usually write. Go into a different room. Go outside. If you can, get out of the house and go work somewhere else, like your public library or a coffee shop.

Otherwise, try to follow all of the same tips that we use for regular 1k1hr writing sprints. (Refresher here.)

Assignment: Leave a comment with your THORsday goal—when, where, and for how long do you plan to do your handwritten challenge today? If you’d like to, for accountability’s sake, come back afterward and post an image of your handwritten work.

Link to instructions for posting images in the comments.

#FirstDraft120 Days 60-67ish: Discovering the Force #amwriting #writersblock

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

It doesn’t seem to matter how often I tell myself that this time I’m committed to get back into writing. This time, I’m going to make it work. This time, I’m actually going to stick to a daily writing schedule. This time, I won’t procrastinate and then quit.

Well, this time has been no different than the few times I’ve tried this before—ever since completing my last contracted book in 2013, I’ve been unable to overcome the procrastination and laziness that overwhelms me whenever I think about sitting down to write.

It’s not that I don’t want to write—or at least do something creative. As most of you well know, I deal with depression on a daily basis. Not only am I wired for it, but I also take medication that exacerbates it. (And medication to try to counteract that.) I work from home so I don’t really feel much accountability to keep a regular daily schedule, despite telling myself every weekend that this week I’m going to make myself get up at a regular time and sit at the work computer for eight hours—with breaks, of course—and focus on my job instead of allowing myself to get distracted with other stuff, which just makes the work day extend well into the evening; and then I don’t feel like doing anything else. And it just becomes a vicious loop of distraction and procrastination and wallowing in the “blah” feeling of unmotivation that the depression brings on, instead of working to overcome it.

See, I know deep down that if I make myself stick to a schedule, both for work and for writing, I’ll feel and function better both mentally and emotionally. I’ll have more energy to get more stuff done around the house (you don’t even want to know what a wreck it’s become). I’ll actually get stuff done, which in turn will give me an emotional boost, which will make overcoming the blahs/procrastination tendency that much easier the next time.

Yet, I don’t.

Confession: I’ve Been Playing Instead of Writing

It’s not that I haven’t been channeling the need to do something creative. Although some of my time has been spent productively in working on hand-crafted Christmas gifts, the majority of my time has been spent working on something that has become a go-to for me when I wallow in my depression long enough that I need a mental escape. It’s a project I call my “imaginary husband.” It started years ago as an alternate reality for myself when I was “self”(un)employed and struggling to make ends meet through diminishing freelance editing projects and writing contracts. Imagining myself falling in love and living a fabulous life with a great husband in a great house with a great job gave me a mental and emotional escape that I needed to help me through that time.

In the past couple of months, I’ve found myself returning more and more frequently to that outlet and losing myself in it for hours at a time. It isn’t writing—it’s both analytical (scouring websites for events that “we” could go to/be involved with and setting up a calendar of events) and visual (creating virtual paper dolls of me and the template for the imaginary husband—a guy I found on a stock photo site—choosing outfits, which means lots of virtual shopping for the clothes and accessories, and even down to choosing restaurants and “ordering” our meals at each one from viewing their menus online). It’s something that uses many of my skills: analytical, creative, graphic, design. However, it isn’t really productive, and it’s really just more procrastination.

Actually, it’s a lot like what I used to do when I started making the transition from playing with Barbies and then, eventually, into writing when I was around thirteen or fourteen years old. Only, back then, I had to use catalogs and magazines, glue/tape, and loose-leaf notebooks, since the Internet didn’t exist. It’s playing. It isn’t writing.

Discovering and Using the (Writing) Force

If you ever had to take physics, you know Newton’s first law of motion: An object at rest tends to stay at rest while an object in motion will stay in motion. This is known as inertia. The object at rest will remain at rest until acted upon by an “unbalancing” force. (Yes, that’s a simplification.) In the physical realm, this means an outside entity must act upon the object to get it to move (or stop). In the mental/emotional realm, it can also be an outside force that must be enacted (a deadline, a contract, a commitment to others, etc.). However, most of the time, it requires that force come from within.

So, my “imaginary husband” project has created an object-at-rest state for me. It’s a lot like overeating junk food—it’s satisfying in the moment, but then as soon as it’s over, I feel guilty for not making better choices. Which just makes overcoming the mental/emotional hurdles that much harder.

It’s so easy to sit here, while writing this post, and tell myself this time it’ll be different. This time, I’ll actually stick to my commitment to write daily. This time, I’m really going to do it. But those are just words. And words are easy to say (type). Action is harder.

But then, thinking about everything that I need to change (work schedule, writing schedule, being a better housekeeper, making healthier food choices, etc.), it becomes overwhelming. So I know I need to make smaller changes. Getting up 20 minute earlier every day until I’m back on a normal work schedule. Setting a timer for one hour and making myself focus on work before taking a 10-minute break. Writing 50 words. Then 100 words. Then 200 words. Taking it in small chunks until I’ve built up the INERTIA needed to be an object that stays in motion.

It’s 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon. I’ve already done most of my work for today (just need to send in my daily report). So that means the rest of the evening is mine to do with what I will. So here’s what I’m going to accomplish tonight:

1. Write/publish a blog post. (DONE!)
2. Write at least 200 words on my novel between now and the time I go to bed.
3. Take the trash out (trash-pickup is early Thursday morning on my street).
4. Unload the dishwasher and put the dishes currently in the sink into it.
5. Put the couple of boxes of stuff that need to go to Goodwill in the car.

Now, if accomplishing this to do list taps me into the Force and gives me momentum, I might do more than this. But even if I just get these five things accomplished, it’ll be more than I’ve done in quite some time.

Assignment: What are five things that you can to tonight that will help you tap into the “force” and go from at-rest to in-motion?

#FirstDraft120 Day 61: THORsday & Some Thoughts on Dialogue Constipation in First Drafts #amwriting

Thursday, December 1, 2016

fd120-thorsdaySorry for the spotty posting this week—it’s always hard to get back into the swing of things after being gone (from home and from work) for more than a week. But let’s take today as the opportunity to ease ourselves back into a good daily writing schedule with our regularly scheduled THORsday writing challenge. For a reminder/clarification of what THORsday is all about, click here.

Assignment: Leave a comment with your THORsday goal—when, where, and for how long do you plan to do your handwritten challenge today?

Some Thoughts on Dialogue Constipation in First Drafts

So, I saw this commercial the other day. (No, this is not a sponsored post, nor do I support/recommend this product—this is just used as an example.)

And it started me thinking about how horribly stiff and unnatural the dialogue is in it. That, naturally, led me to think about everything I’ve ever read/heard/written/taught about writing dialogue in fiction. (And believe me, there’s a lot.) One of my primary go-to quotes about dialogue is this, from Sol Stein in How to Grow a Novel, in the chapter “Our Native Language Is Not Dialogue”:

Dialogue is a language that is foreign to most writers of nonfiction and many newcomers to fiction. Totally different from whatever language a writer grows up using, dialogue is also a triumphant language. It can make people unknown to the author cry, laugh, and believe lies in seconds. It is succinct, but can carry a great weight of meaning. In a theater, dialogue can draw thunderous applause from people who have paid heavily for the privilege of listening to it. At its best, as in Shakespeare’s best, dialogue provides us with memorable—and beautiful—guides for understanding the behavior of the human race.

(p. 90)

However, trying to write good dialogue—dialogue that isn’t didactic or overly expository or telling stuff that we should be showing or meandering or, simply put, “bad”—isn’t something that we need to focus on when writing a first draft. Crafting meaningful, colorful, quippy, witty, scintillating dialogue that pops and moves the story forward is the work of revision and rewriting (and revision and rewriting, and revision and rewriting).

So if you have developed a “constipated” feeling when you’re writing, and it’s because you feel like the dialogue you’re writing stinks, take this post as your “laxative” and let the words flow as they will. You can always flush them/clean them up later. (Ick, I know.) 😉

Works cited:

Stein, Sol. How to Grow a Novel: The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make and How to Overcome Them. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

#FirstDraft120 Day 59: Timer Tuesday! #amwriting #nanowrimo

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

fd120-timer-tuesdayAs always on Tuesdays, today our challenge is to schedule and complete at least one 1k1hr writing sprint some time during the day.

I’m going to try to do my #1k1h sprint today at 7:30 PM US Central time*.

*To determine the time of the 1k1hr sprint in your time zone, go to the Time Converter website by clicking the image above and inputting my time (as Nashville or Central Standard Time) on the left, and your city/location on the right. For example, 7:30 PM Tuesday 11/29 in Nashville is 12:30 p.m. Wednesday 11/30 in Sydney, Australia.

What time will you be doing your 1k1hr sprint today? Or if not a 1k1hr, how will you work the concept of the sprint into your day?

Remember, the more support (and accountability) there is, the more successful we’ll all be!

1k1h Tips for Success

  1. Let anyone within your household know that you need one uninterrupted hour to try to head off at the pass any interruptions.
  2. Set a timer. This is most important. Don’t do this by just watching the clock. You’ll find yourself only watching the clock and not getting anything written. Setting a timer allows you to forget about the time and concentrate fully on writing.
  3. Prepare yourself before starting your timer. Re-read the last few pages you wrote (without editing/revising!) to get your head back into the story and figure out where you need to pick up. Review your outline and/or character pages in your Story Bible. And then put all of that away so you don’t use those to procrastinate during the hour.
  4. If you listen to music while writing (I recommend instrumental so that you don’t get distracted by the lyrics), have it set up and playing before starting your timer. Use earphones, even if you’re working at home, to block out any sounds that might pull you out of your story.
  5. If you can’t listen to music while writing, I recommend wearing the earphones anyway. People are less likely to interrupt you (at home or working somewhere like a coffee shop) if you have them in/on—and they help block out those distracting sounds.
  6. Make sure your writing space (both physical and mental) is set up and ready to go before you start your timer.
  7. In other words, make sure that about five to ten minutes before you start the 1k1h sprint, you’re in the process of getting ready to write.
  8. Silence or turn off your cell phone (unless you’re using it as your timer—then don’t turn it off). Close your Internet browser. Close Facebook and Twitter (as soon as I give the “start” signal, of course). Close your email program if you use something like Outlook that isn’t web-based. Eliminate all distractions!

Don’t Know How to Start Writing?
If you aren’t sure how to start writing when the hour starts, even after re-reading what you’ve previously written, here are a few suggestions.

  • Which character had the viewpoint in the last scene you wrote? Start with a different character in this scene.
  • Still not sure what to write? Try this prompt:
    Character walked into the room. Character saw a piece of paper tacked to the wall on the other side of the room. Character walked across the room and took the piece of paper down. Character read the piece of paper. The piece of paper said . . .
  • If that prompt doesn’t work, try the exercise of making your character face a great fear or come face-to-face with someone they don’t like.
  • If you can’t think of what the “next” scene is that comes after the one you just left off with in your previous writing session, start writing something you know comes later in the story that you already have a good idea for. Though I recommend writing your story in linear fashion (from beginning to end) instead of jumping around, sometimes you need to write stuff that comes later if you already have a clear idea of the scene in your head, just to make sure you don’t lose it. And that can also help you figure out what comes between what you’ve written so far and that future scene and help you to fill in the gap next time.

Don’t forget to check in with your progress and how you do with your own 1k1hr sprint(s) today!

%d bloggers like this: