Books I've Read · Websites I Like

Morning Person?

I’ve always admired morning people, so much so that I have decided to try and become one. No, really. I’m going to try to be a morning person.

See, it’s been very hard for me to find the time to write lately, much less keep up with this blog or keep up with the various reading groups I’m part of. The only time I could think of, when no one would be clamoring for my attention, was first thing in the morning, while everyone else is still asleep. So I set my alarm clock for 5 AM. I woke up, for some reason, at 4:30. So I got up and, so far, have been very productive. Since the first chapter of my book was very well received at my writing group meeting this past weekend, I have now plotted out the second chapter of my book and can start digging into it. The house is very quiet – the only sounds are the small heater blowing at my feet and the clicking of keys on the keyboard. Rather peaceful. Now if only the caffeine would start kicking in.

I wanted to mention two books that I am reading in conjunction with two websites that I adore. The first book is The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by the one and only J.R.R. Tolkien. I do love me some Tolkien! What’s making this re-reading of the series so enjoyable this time around is reading it one chapter a day along with Mark over at I love his website! He is incredibly funny and reviews books one chapter at a time. I first found him because of his Harry Potter reviews and, even though there are seven of those books and they are really, really long, I still sat there and read all of Mark’s posts about every single chapter. It took a while to get through them all! After several mentions in those reviews about how much he hated reading Twilight, I knew I had to read those reviews as well. Wow, he really hated those books! He’s also reviewed the Hunger Games trilogy, the His Dark Materials series, and several others. His reviews are funny and insightful and a really great time.

The second book I’m reading is Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. I’m reading it with a small book club that I run over at the Mallorean Tavern, a website that started out as a David Eddings fan site, but is now more a general fantasy, book, and pop culture forum. I’ve been a member for years, but we’ve always had a hard time keeping up a book club because of people’s schedules. When I became a moderator, I knew that the book club was one of the things that I really wanted to bring back. We started our first book club discussion back in May and are now on our fifth book. The whole site is a lot of fun, with discussions of books, movies, television, and the occasional RPG going on in the back room.

So now that I’m a morning person (or at least I am for today), I can hopefully be a more faithful blogger. But for now, I should probably get back to work.

Books I've Read

Books #5 & 6

I was originally going to post about re-reading the first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. I have since decided against that. Not that I don’t love these books – I really, really, really do. But for now, it will just be mentioned that I read it and have moved on.

I need to spend more time talking about another book that I read, a book that I was both looking forward to reading and dreading at the same time: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

 For anyone who doesn’t know, John Green is one half of the very popular YouTube channel “The Vlogbrothers,” along with his brother, Hank. I have watched their videos for years and am proud to call myself a Nerdfighter. I have also read all of John’s previous books and, naturally, was excited when I heard that another one was forthcoming. However, once I heard more about it, I had some reservations.

The Fault in Our Stars is about a teenage girl who has terminal cancer.

This is such a trigger subject for so many people. I had no doubt that John would handle the subject appropriately, but still, it seemed like such a downer. There can’t be a happy ending to this story, right? No matter what happens, unless there’s some kind of cheap miracle cure, the main character will be facing death and, potentially, so will other characters as well. I knew I had to read this book. I had preordered it so that I would get a signed copy. But I also knew that there would be no escaping it – John Green was about to make me cry. Again.

And yet . . . I was glad to see that there was such humor in the book. All the characters are facing major challenges, either dealing with cancer themselves or watching with a loved one deal with it, and yet it doesn’t completely consume them. Their lives are hard, but still worthwhile. Another thing I liked was how real the characters felt – how matter-of-fact they were about their lives. The main character, Hazel, is very blunt about how her lungs are crap and she needs to have portable oxygen. It’s not shown as a big production. It’s just there. Part of her life, but not her entire life.

It’s a beautiful love story between Hazel and Gus, a boy she meets at a support group for cancer patients and survivors. There are highs and lows, things that are ugly and things that are beautiful. One of the things I love most about Hazel in particular is how she loses herself in a book, so much so that she dreams of meeting the author just to find out what happens to the characters after the book ends. This girl could be my sister – I totally understand how she feels! They end up on a whirlwind trip to Amsterdam to track down this reclusive author and, I have to say, it is so incredibly romantic and sweet and I now want to visit Amsterdam someday.

This book was hard to read at times and, yes, I bawled like a baby towards the end. But it was also incredibly rewarding to read and brilliantly written.


Weekend, ahoy!

This has been a fairly good week.

I know this will sound crazy, but I have a major thing for schedules, to-do lists, and calendars. I have at least three calendars that I use at work, plus a large daily to-do list that keeps track of how close I am to being on schedule. I’ve been trying to take this borderline OCD tendency to my personal life, and this week, I think I’ve finally done it.

Here’s the part that sounds crazy – I try to schedule EVERYTHING! From cleaning my house, to the books I read, to the amount of time I spend on my writing. It doesn’t always work, of course. Things come up that throw me off. But this past week was the closest I’ve come to in a very long time to actually making it work.

It was nowhere near perfect, but I blame the children for that. If found that nearly everything in life can be blamed on one of three things: the children, the ex-husband, or the government.

This ultimately means that I am satisfied with how productive I was this week. It’s not always easy for me to say that. I can get really down on myself, being the raging perfectionist that I am.

The thing I am most excited about is that I started officially writing the rough draft of my story – that’s right, I’m done with Truby! If you want proof for how prepared I am for this:  in four days, I have written over 3300 words. That might not seem like much, but for me, it’s huge. I really feel like I can do it this time. I even have ideas for the sequel.

This has never happened before.

I’m hoping to get a lot done this weekend, although there are some other things that will be drawing my attention. My Christmas decorations are still up, for crying out loud! So they need to be put away. There are several other things I need to do as well.

I probably should make a list.

Books I've Read

Books #2, 3 and 4 – The Hunger Games trilogy

Sometimes you find wonderful books by mere coincidence.

It all started after I got my Kindle. One of the features I was most interested in was the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. As I was poking around, looking at what was available, I saw The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I had heard of the books from some friends of mine, who enjoyed the series quite a bit. Figuring I had nothing to loose, I selected the book to borrow and watched delightedly as it was instantly available on my Kindle.

Again, technology – it’s truly amazing sometimes!

So I was getting ready for my New York trip when I got this book, so I would have something to read in the airport and on the plane. I did not expect to be drawn into the story so quickly. I was in one of the most exciting cities in the world, and one of my favorite places to visit, and all I wanted to do was go read more! I ended up reading the first book twice because I couldn’t get the next one until I got home. I ended up buying the next two books, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, right away and read both of them within three days.

The story takes place in the country of Panem, which used to be North America before a huge nuclear war and massive climate change destroyed it. Panem is made up of the Capitol, which is surrounded by twelve districts, each responsible for an area of commerce or manufacturing. There used to be a thirteenth district, but it was destroyed for rebelling against the Capitol. In order to remind the citizens of Panem how dependent they are on the Capitol (and how much the Capitol holds them at their mercy), each year they choose a boy and a girl from each district to participate in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death battle that is broadcast across the districts on television. The ages for participation are twelve to seventeen.

I’m kind of a sucker for this sort of post-apocalyptic type of story. The main character is Katniss, a sixteen year old girl who enters the Hunger Games in place of her twelve year old sister. We see the Hunger Games through the eyes of this unlikely contestant who unwittingly inspires a revolution. The first book was my favorite of the trilogy, although the other two books are also very, very good.

Books I've Read

Book #1 – The Sapphire Rose

One thing you will notice if you read my blog is that I love, love, love talking about the books I’m reading. Since I’ve challenged myself to read 60 books this year, I figured listing them here would be a good way to keep track of the books I liked and the books I didn’t.

(Although, to be fair, there are very few books I actually dislike. I’ll stick with almost anything, and usually can find at least one thing positive to say about them.)

Anyway, the first book I read for 2012 is The Sapphire Rose by David Eddings. This is the third and final book of the Elenium trilogy, although the story continues for another three books in the Tamuli trilogy, which I will be reading soon. I’ve read them before, but it’s been a really, really long time. There were a lot of things I had completely forgotten, including just how good these books are.

The one thing that I really appreciate about the Elenium, or in fact all of Eddings’ books, is his skill at creating a brilliant story world. As a fantasy writer who is struggling to make sure that her story world makes any sense at all, I can appreciate just how difficult a task this is. This series features one of the most interesting religious constructions I’ve ever seen. The main character is Sparhawk. He is a knight, more specifically, a Church Knight. The Church of the Elenes has four militant orders, who swear oaths to defend the church and the people of the Elene kingdoms. I love this concept! Through their adventures, they have to work magic (yes, the Knights are trained in magic – that just makes them all the more awesome) in order to defeat an evil foreign god and his followers from taking over.

Religious ferver. Magic. Chivalry. All things that can make a very good fantasy novel. David Eddings was the first fantasy author I ever read and as such, he will always be one of my favorites.

Trips I've Taken

New York, New York!

My favorite city in the world!

My husband and I took a long weekend to visit the city. We do this at least once a year, sometimes several. I think last year I went three times: once with him, once with my daughter and my mom, and once alone. One day, I tell myself, I will live there – just not any time soon. My husband and I could easily consolidate everything and move into a studio apartment if it was just the two of us, but that’s just not feasible for a family of four. Once those kids are off to college, though, moving to New York is fair game.

I’ll just have to plan more trips in the meantime. Oh darn.

Here are some of the highlights of the trip. We visited the 9/11 memorial and I have to say that it is beautiful. No matter how many times I’ve seen coverage of the falling of the World Trade Center, nothing can replace actually standing there and seeing just how massive these buildings were.  I am so glad that they decided to not build anything over the site. The waterfall monuments are stunning – simple and beautiful.  As I walked around them, running my hands over the names immortalized in stone, it was hard not to get emotional. I can’t wait to see it again when the trees are all in bloom and the museum is open.

You could see rainbows in the falling water at times, but none would show up through the camera.

We saw two shows while we were there. My husband’s choice was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He loved the movie and wanted to see how they decided to interpret it onstage. It was a lot of fun – lots of singing and dancing and, oh heavens, the costumes! They won the Tony Award for Costume Design, and it’s easy to see why. It was a party from the get-go. My choice of show was the play Seminar by Theresa Rebeck. I wanted to see it for two reasons. Reason #1 – the play is about four young writers attending a writer’s workshop under a very . . . let’s say interesting mentor. Seriously, how many plays are there about writers writing??? That alone made me very curious. Reason #2 – the mentor in question was played by Alan Rickman, who is one of my all-time favorite actors. I’ve seen him in several movies, but never saw any of his stage work before. He was hilarious! The entire cast was great and the play was absolutely brilliant.

The Palace Theater in Times Square

Getting back to reality this week has been a bit of a struggle, but in many ways it has been good. The trip to New York almost extended the holiday season for me, since last week I only worked three days, so now everything will be officially back to normal. Until I plan my next trip that is . . .


Ah, technology . . .

Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

There have been some major technological advances this week at the Calvin Homestead. My husband and I have similar takes on how technology seems to be invading every aspect of our lives. Let’s take, for instance, my husband’s cell phone. He is lucky enough to have a cell phone plan through his employer, which he is allowed to use for personal reasons as well as work-related ones. His old phone was . . . well, there’s no nice way to put it. It was just sad. The cover was cracking. The battery would barely keep a charge. You couldn’t put it on vibrate. Or receive text messages. My husband mocked me mercilessly when I decided to upgrade my cell phone to a Smart Phone, saying that all the extra features were silly. In his mind, all you need a phone to do is make phone calls. Period. End of story.

Except it’s not. His boss decided that he was due for an upgrade (since he’s NEVER had one) and surprised him the day after New Year’s . . . with an iPhone 4. My Luddite husband was in dismay. He had figured out how to answer phone calls, but couldn’t find where to place a call himself. All the icons on the screen were overwhelming to someone who had had the same tired flip phone for ten years. After a few days, though, he learned more about what the phone was capable of and admits that it’s a really cool piece of technology. Even if most of the features are, in his mind, pointless.

And then there’s me. I have finally broken down and bought myself an e-reader. Earlier this week, I became the proud owner of a Kindle Fire. I thought for sure that I would be the last person on earth to ever get one. I hated the thought of e-books. Give me a printed, paper and ink bound book any day. I hate the way that brick-and-mortar bookstores are going out of business, that our Borders is now an empty husk of a building. E-books were the enemy, responsible for the closing down of one of my favorite places to go.

Yet, there were several reasons to break down and actually get the Kindle. I have had two friends now, one already published and one almost published, who are releasing their books strictly in e-book format.  The one who is already published is getting ready to self-publish his second book. My other friend is going through a publisher, working with their e-book line. While I can use the Kindle reading app for my home computer, it would be nice to have something to be able to take the books with me.

So far, I have to admit that the Kindle Fire is pretty nifty.  It makes me wonder why I was so resistant to the idea. My husband is also really enjoying his iPhone, despite swearing up and down that he would never have one. I guess we’re finally becoming modern after all!