6 Awesome Books I Read in 2016

I read approximately 30 books last year, and there were some gems among them, including a new favorite. I narrowed it down to six favorites for this post. I can only tell you what I loved about these books, sans spoilers,  and maybe convince one or two of you to pick up something that you wouldn’t usually turn to.

Sharp Objects (Mystery/Thriller)

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This book, this book right here. Wow. You want to be punched in the face and then falsely comforted by a book? Look, I didn’t think I did either, until I read this. All you have to do is go ‘look inside’ on amazon, and read the first couple pages. Flynn reads like a Sylvia Plath poem in a crime noir. Every sentence builds on the previous all the way to the sick-to-your-stomach merry-go-round ride at the end. Read Gone Girl or Dark Places? Great, now read this, and be happy you saved the best for last.

Camille Preaker, fresh out of the psychiatric hospital and looking for approval from her editor, is sent back to her hometown to look into a potential serial strangler of little girls. Problem is, returning to Wind Gap means facing her past, specifically her mother, with whom she has a strained relationship, her ethereal half-sister Amma, and the ghost of her dead sister, Marian.

Sisterland (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction)

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A compulsive contemporary read with a semi-fantastical element, this book was shocking in its vivid realism. Kate is the good girl of the sisters, the one that cares about what other people think, the one that ‘does things right’. Violet is the non-conformist, brutally honest, true to herself sister that embraces the psychic ability that they discovered at an early age and her premonition of an impending earth quake that gets her a spot on the national news.

This novel should not be written off as only chick-lit or a book about psychics. Sittenfeld combines masterful storytelling with subtle acknowledgement of all those what-if forks throughout our lives. Bringing to mind Niffeneger’s deft handling of that slice of magic through ordinary life in her Time Traveler’s Wife, Sisterland observes friendship, and romantic and familial relationships with a sharp emotional clarity.

Night Film (Mystery/Thriller)

10112885Horror is a third genre in which this novel fits (from my 2016 reads, see also A Head Full of Ghosts and My Best Friend’s Exorcism). Though this novel did call to mind House of Leaves in its experimental story-telling method, it is also unique.

Night Film had a hard-boiled tone to it in some parts, a thrilling ghost story in others, and the recounting of great and dark man’s horrific legacy overall. While about a prolific horror film director, who went to all lengths to capture true, unaffected horror, the story is told by Scott McGrath, the reporter who once tried to out director Stanislas Cordova’s sinister methods and lost everything in the battle. Now that Cordova’s daughter Ashley has turned up dead (and was pretty ghostly before she died), McGrath declares war. Will he find the truth he is looking for? You’ll have to read to see.

Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (YA)19547856

I read a lot of YA last year. My reread of Carry On aside, this was the most flawless, engrossing, teen-angst-ridden book I could have devoured in two days. And I did. (I can also highly recommend First & Then and P.S. I Like You for light-hearted, touching reads, but for heavier/darker YA, NestLooking for Alaska, and Wintergirls were also great.)

Simon’s day is already going south quick when he realizes that awkward class clown Martin (think Ackley from The Catcher in the Rye) is blackmailing him, threatening to reveal his homosexuality far before he’s ready. A timely disturbance to the butterflies he feels when emailing his also gay, anonymous pen-pal, who quite possibly attends Simon’s school. This book took me back to high school, to drama club, to starbursts in your chest of like-like and love, and to trying so hard it hurts to define yourself while defying the definitions placed on you from without.

Longbourn (Historical)

18399238After diving into Downton Abbey, I thirsted to read about how the other half lives in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as represented by Baker. I was not disappointed. Some Austen and/or historical purists disdain this book for historical inaccuracies or perceived misinterpretations of Austen’s text. In my opinion, it is a good story beautifully written. It dug into my heart and lives there still. How can I convey how much and why I love this book? Okay, you have a certain food that you love, right? The ultimate comfort food. Maybe you throw it together on rainy days, maybe you just need it after having a really bad day…or a really good one. And you know how you feel, afterward, in the pit of your stomach? Not just full, but satiated? This is a book you will want to eat. And it will satiate you, I promise.

*FAVORITE BOOK OF 2016*

The Madwoman Upstairs

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And my absolute favorite book of 2016, which has been bumped up to my top four favorite novels ever (sitting prettily aside Jane EyreHouse of Leaves, and The Catcher in the Rye), was The Madwoman Upstairs. 

So, if you’ve ever done any type of feminist research on the Brontës’ works, you probably ran into a little tome called The Madwoman in the Attic (Gilbert & Gubar), not to be confused with the novel, The Madwoman Upstairs. Lowell’s title is a play on the excellent collection of feminist analyses, but I promise the book is less homework-y and more fun. 🙂

If you take immense pleasure in archaic romances (as defined here), you will enjoy this book. Not to be shallow, but debating great literature and semi-colon use with my hellishly good-looking Literature tutor in the pubs of England and yes, the halls of Oxford University, sounds like a little slice of heaven. Even better though, someone else struggles with inarticulateness in the face of the intimidating don. Samantha Whipple, the last Brontë descendant, was home-schooled by her late eccentric father. She is a bit of an odd ball and fairly alone in the world. She comes to Oxford to study literature, gets sequestered in what must surely be an inhabitable tower of the school, and begins to find startling pieces of her past on her doorstep. The mystery of whether her father left her the Brontë legacy, or any legacy at all, absorbs the reader into Sam’s growing obsession. Sam is far from perfect, but this is what makes her a heroine you will adore (or maybe you’ll hate her, but I adored her). Her sense of humor had me laughing out loud, ex:

“The trajectory of the academic year was now spanning out in front of me, and it looked like one blackened stream of intellectual dictatorship. The more time Orville and I spent together, the more I would become one of those pale-faced vampire children in films who emerge only to say something unsettilingly prophetic in a half whisper” —The Madwoman Upstairs

God, I could pull so many passages from this book, but I don’t want to spoil it for you (because you’re about to go buy it, right?). However, it wasn’t just about the narrator voice, or the romance, or the Brontë ghosts Sam spends over three hundred pages chasing (and avoiding in some parts). This book made me think, made me reconsider my own analyses on the literature addressed therein. Part scavenger-hunt, part romance, part spiraling descent into academia (with a touch of madness, of course), this novel leaves you struggling to discern truth from fiction.

Read any of these books? What did you think?

Other recommendations?

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2016 in Review

2016 was a tough year. It was a year of learning how to balance being a mother and wife, while working full-time, and trying to write in the crevices between. It was also the year of losing my grandmother, my last grandparent and the one I was closest to. I’m still learning and recovering.

But it was a good year too. I married the father of my children. I learned so much about being a mother. I learned that you cannot measure just how many nooks and crannies of the heart you can fill with love–I learned that on some days you have to allow that love in. I learned to be a writer, you have to write. I learned that you have to respect yourself–I’m always learning that. I keep the good moments in the lock box of my brain, to which I hope I never lose the key: laying on the floor with my daughters as they crawled over me like I was a jungle gym, giggling as I chased and caught them and gobbled them up; the conversations with my gram and getting to see her joy and pride as she watched the girls; the gratitude for my job and all of the new experiences I’ve gained from it; the shining moments of producing something that made me feel good, and that disembodied but assuring voice said ‘you are still a writer. And you’ve got this.’ It was a tough year, but it was full of good moments too.

In 2016, I was promoted to manager of my own property and moved to the new property to live on site. I set a goal to read 25 books on my goodreads. I ended up reading 33 mind-blowing, thoughtful, wonderful books (favorites will be addressed next post). I started a new novel in August to which I am in the process of writing the last chapter; I won NaNoWriMo in November by writing over 50,000 words to that novel. I had three publications. My poem Nest came out in February with Eunoia Review, a publication I respect and enjoy to which I had submitted before unsuccessfully. My collection of poems on my father’s death, The Stages of Grief in Four Parts, was published by a local college literary journal in May. I had the honor of attending the release party  and sharing some of these poems for my first reading. My story The Wake (scroll all the way down) was published in Jamais Vu in October, a story even more dear to me now for being loosely based on a story my grandmother told me. Once you read it, you’ll have questions about that. Just email me. 🙂

I made a list of new year’s intentions  last January. I didn’t achieve most all of them. But that’s okay. I found that the large, quantifiable intentions were often pushed aside when life got hectic. Or I just wasn’t ready for this art project or that revision. The smaller, bite-sized intentions were more manageable, like submitting more than I did the previous year, blogging once a month, and correcting some negative thoughts or behaviors–I still have a ways to go on this front.

I achieved a lot in 2016, not everything on my list and many things that weren’t on my list at all, but enough to be proud. My goal is to learn all of these things again, this year. To read more, write more, love more, be more present. To hug and kiss my babies and husband every day. To remember my grandmother and spend as much time as I can with all of my family and friends because every day is not guaranteed. To stop being so hard on myself. To embrace productivity, health, and love.

And I hope you all do too. Happy 2017, Everyone.

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How to “Win” National Novel Writing Month

It has occurred to me that anytime I wrote a post about National Novel Writing Month (here and here…and here) in the past, I always used the acronym-ish title, which may have alienated anyone who didn’t know what NaNoWriMo was offhand. My apologies.

So…..about this crazy month, I’m kind of dying. Eerily enough, upon rereading my old posts regarding NaNoWriMo, I see that around this point in the month, almost to the day, was when I gave up the first year I did it. November 16th, you insidious beast.

Some writers say they don’t have time to write 50,000 words in a month, and maybe they really don’t. But if I’m being honest with myself, I do have the time. I have little snippets of time throughout my day, like if I choose to get up before getting ready for work at 5 or 6 AM. Doable, sure. But I like my warm, cozy bed more. Or maybe in that 1-4 hours after we put my daughters to bed at 8:30ish before I myself crash face-first, butt in the air into my padded room own bed. And I try, folks. I really freaking try. But it seems like some invisible force constantly stands in my way, preventing me from getting my fingers to the keyboard, or even more twisted, letting me get there and then laughing over my shoulder, making me wonder why I’m even doing this. And then the fear creates the writer’s block, and then you’re one of those a-holes calling yourself a writer but you don’t even write anymore, and then suddenly, flash forward to twenty years from now, and you’re wearing an A-shirt stained with Chef Boyardee and shaking your fist at the skies as you consume Stephen King’s 277th best-selling novel. I’m sure you feel the same. So here are some coping mechanisms I have been using this month to get by:

  • Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way: Don’t write a blog post in the middle of NaNoWriMo.
  • If you’ve consumed far too much coffee and it’s giving you jitters, tension, and higher stress levels, then you’re on the right track. Keep going. Just kidding, switch to green tea, yo. It lubricates your brain folds and helps you focus.
  • Reignite the fire. Were you excited about your novel before the month started and now you just feel like it’s work to get those words in? Find a cool pic for the cover, make a playlist to listen to while writing, fangirl on your shit, so that you’re excited again. Maybe even hold off on rewarding yourself with those things until you get your 1,667 words for the day. Reward yourself with some of the cool little badges NaNoWriMo.org offers.

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  • When you get to the point of holy-shit-I’m-10,000-words behind, it’s time to utilize that crafty little tool on your NaNo Stats sidebar at the bottom: Words Per Day to Finish on Time and reconfigure some things.

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In my case, I skipped five days. So, as you can see, my stats isn’t so great.

  • And finally, NEVER let yourself give up. I fought with this a lot this month. This is the first year I’ve attempted to do NaNo since becoming a mom, and I’ve got to admit, it is hard. But if you WANT it you have to WORK for it. You can’t give up. Even if you don’t “win” NaNoWriMO and achieve the 50K words you set out to do at the beginning of the month, you still end up with more words than you would have achieved this month for pushing yourself. So…hell yeah!

Have any preferred coping mechanisms with the obstacles in the way of what you want? We could use all the help we can get here, so please, share…

(P.S. Does this count toward my words for today?)

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10 Halloween Indulgences

This day is all about the mood. To set the mood, here are 10 spooky reads and movies for your Halloween enjoyment.

7 Spooky Reads

Classic Gothic

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

If you take your horror with a side of obsession and romance, then this powerful novel is for you. Whether you see vampires or just madness, this book has some dark and truly unsettling parts.

Contemporary Gothic

The Night Swimmer by Matt Bondurant

I listened to this book on audio, discomforted by the eerie setting and tone the whole way through. With its folk lore and Irish gangs, Bondurant firmly places you in a literary landscape you want to stay in forever and escape in equal measures.

Horror

Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

I read this book as a comparison to one of my own novels, and it was everything I hoped it would be. It is full of cults, ghosts, possession, and desperate measures.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The second most terrifying book I have ever read (after House of Leaves). I guarantee you have never read–nay! experienced anything like this!

Literary Horror

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This is a good book for people who like mystery, thrillers, film, and of course, horror. Not to mention, the antagonist is very intriguing.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Grim, gruesome, and gritty. I loved Camille’s tone. I loved the tone of the entire book. Such a satisfying mystery shot with horror and an ending that’s sure to make you reel.

Quirky Horror

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

This book was unique, and it really made me squirm in terror at times. I remain ambivalent about the end, but if you like horror and the 80s were part and parcel to your childhood, this is definitely worth a read.

3 Spooky Movies

The Witch (2015)

One of the best horror movies I’ve ever seen, subjectively speaking. Obviously, I want to be scared when I watch horror, and this one digs under you skin.

Goodnight, Mommy (2014)

A highly uncomfortable–but satisfying–foray beautiful cinematography, boyish adventure, and M. Night Shyamalan-ish twists.

The Descent (2005)

I can’t believe I’d never watched this until recently. It’s psychological and creature horror wrapped up in one edge-of-your-seat horror.

 

As a bonus, if you’re looking for a quick horror fix, check out my flash horror story, “The Wake”, which just came out, or my horror poem “The Insolubility of Nightmares”–my first published work from October three years ago.

Have you already seen these movies or read these books? What did you think (no spoilers, of course)? What horror novels or movies are you indulging in on this All Hallow’s Eve? 

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The Wake

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Image Source: southernghosts.tumblr.com

My flash horror story, “The Wake”, is out today in Jamais Vu, a Post Mortem Press newsletter. It appears alongside an interesting bit of history behind Mozart’s Concerto in C minor number 24,  some fun Halloween poems, and a tense labyrinthine story that seems to take place in an M.C. Escher painting. I had the pleasure of encountering Post Mortem Press at the World Horror Convention last year, and I am ecstatic to be included in their revamped monthly newsletter. You can sign up to receive it by email here.

This story is a special one to me, as it is based on one of the outrageous stories my Grandma was always telling me. Have fun trying to decipher the fact from the fiction. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Click here to read “The Wake”.

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

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