Friday, January 4, 2019

Top 10 Reads of 2018

Here are my favorite reads of 2018.  That doesn’t mean the books are contained to 2018 release dates but rather book I’ve read in 2018.  Since I am a reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, the majority of my books are historical fiction, some of which I read before the official publication date.  

Overall, I hope you’ll take away some new reads. I love to talk books, so let me get my book nerd on.

Thus, without further ado...

10. For the Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2) by Emily Hauser
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Published: 6/15/2017
Read: 9/14/2018

Yet another brilliant novel by Hauser. Her precise detailing of the ancient world, its superstitions, its class structures, and its personalities are a marvel to behold within these pages. Its a familiar tale that Hauser is able to elaborate on and add exciting twists and turns to, for both the characters and their stories. Well-known Greek legends vividly come to life with plenty of surprises for readers through Hauser's deft narrative skill and historical expertise.

9. Draekora (The Medoran Chronicles #3) by Lynette Noni
Publisher: Pantera Press
Published: 4/1/2017
Read: 7/21/2018

Oh. My. Goodness. These books just keep getting better! And its not just the dizzying adventures or the enchanting landscape or the delightful characters, its the depth of her characters and their relationships that makes Noni's book so great. And the wickedly funny sarcasm too. AND there are dragons. Once I started reading, I could not stop. 

8. Of Fire and Lions by Mesu Andrews
Publisher: Waterbrook Press
Published: 3/5/2019
Read: 12/14/2018

Unfortunately, I cannot divulge this review quite yet. You’ll just have to watch for it on The book’s release date is actually March of 2019, so keep your eyes out. However, I will say that I first encountered Andrews’s lovely Biblical fiction with “Isaiah’s Daughter,” and I delighted in “Of Fire and Lions” even more. My review of “Isaiah’s Daughter” can be found here if you want to learn more about Andrews’s talents in bringing to life richly-realized characters and stories from the Bible:

7. Circe by Madeline Miller
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Published: 4/10/2018
Read: 9/30/2018

Circe is shunned by her kind for being different, for wanting kindness instead of cruelty. Miller's prose about the fragility of life, the circumstances of the Gods versus mortals, and Circe's longing for acceptance creates a strong emotional core. The setting sweeps across generations, and many characters from myth are touched upon from Prometheus to Daedalus to Jason to Odysseus. This book is engaging because of its compelling and lyrical narrative of a women trying to carve out a world of her own. Recommended for readers who love strong female voices and a strong element of mythology.

6. A Light on the Hill (Cities of Refuse #1) by Connilyn Cossette

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Published: 2/6/2018
Read: 5/6/2018

Cossette has an uncanny ability to deep-dive into her characters. I loved the main and secondary characters alike, all with just enough backstory to create a diverse mix of interwoven perspectives. Plot wise, I could not predict anything that happened. Cossette’s talent in lovingly drawing out characters as well as historical settings is stunning and delightful, making her one of my favorite authors. 

5. Searcher of the Dead (A Bess Ellyott Mystery #1) by Nancy Herriman
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Published: 3/13/2018
Read: 1/20/2018

Early on, Herriman’s level of historical detail pulled me in and never let go. Gramercy, how the dialogue sets the tone with finesse! I loved how immersed in time and place I felt. From patterns of speech, to details in homes of the poor versus the wealthy, to 16th-century law, the research Herriman has done is marvelous. The pacing is great, and I found myself glued to the pages. To my delight, on top of an intriguing mystery, the historical depth and the well-developed characters make this an extremely satisfying read. Certes, fans of Ariana Franklin will devour this book! I eagerly await more Bess Ellyott mysteries.  

4. The Story Collector by Kristin O’Donnell Tubbs
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Published: 8/28/2018
Read: 9/3/2018

O’Donnell Tubb’s masterfully constructed prose perfectly balances youthfulness and sophistication. Her whimsical word play had me hooked by paragraph one.  At its heart, this story is about Viviani discovering her self-worth—an impactful message for readers young and old. Based on an actual family who lived in the NYPL, O’Donnell Tubb weaves together a charming middle-grade tale of friendship, self-confidence, and a love of words. Who says you need a “once upon a time” to find magic in your life? A compulsive read for any age.

3. City of Ink (Li Du Novels #3) by Elsa Hart
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Published: 8/21/2018
Read: 5/20/2018

Elsa Hart’s third Li Du novel continues to impress. The mystery is multilayered and keeps you guessing. The setting breathes within the narrative, vividly enchanting readers into 18th-century China. Hart’s narration has a musical quality that is descriptive while adding cultural flair. From the way tea leaves sulk in a cup to the way walls drape across the landscape like a necklace, the prose is beguiling. With an intelligent plot, intriguing characters, and historical depth, this book is a delight!

2. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
Publisher: Scribner
Published: 3/21/2017
Read: 1/1/2018

Lisa See gets back to what made "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" so great: women growing beyond social constraints in plausible ways and a rich cultural experience. The care and deep appreciation for tea, experiencing characters who live in a tea picking society, the roots of tea in our main character's culture -- I loved it all!  Our main character has such beautiful moments and growth.  Gorgeous settings, beautiful cultural elements, and intriguing characters make this a fantastic read, and my first read of 2018!

1. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Publisher: Del Rey
Published: 7/10/2018
Read: 8/4/2018

In this Eastern European-esque tale of magic, family, and controlling one’s fate, three young women must work together to save their world from a mythical monster and an endless winter.  The world-building is compelling, and Jewish culture is represented lovingly throughout. Additionally, I delighted in the varied perceptions of magic as seen through different characters’ eyes. I believe this spellbinding book will be one of the most beloved releases of 2018. The way Novik uses words is melodic and beguiling. Escapism at its finest!

Got favorites from 2018?  Feel free to comment below.  I’d love to discover some new treasures. And let me wish you a Happy 2019! 

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May the books be ever in your favor...

Monday, August 20, 2018

Perceptions of Tea, Time, and Captain Picard

As August comes to a close and my kids once again start packing their backpacks, I can't help but be amazed at how quickly time has passed.  Its easy to reassure yourself that there's a little more time to finish something, like...say...the first draft of a new book. *cough, cough* Go figure I'm exploring the concept of lost time in a novella being developed.

The novella focuses on the fictional daughter of Shen Nung, the emperor who legend tells invented tea.  The stories of its discovery are varied, so I thought it would be fun to explore this concept, since I'm a huge fan of loose-leaf tea. 

My current chapter focuses on the daughter as she copes with the loss of a loved one and how 'time' has betrayed her.  I think its a concept many of us can relate to.  Babes-in-arms are soon heading off to start their own lives, half-finished novels become dusty and forgotten on the computer (or in notebooks stuffed into a drawer, as we used to do in the late 1980s/early 1990s), and seasons change with no regard to our readiness or not (I'm looking at you, Minnesota Winter!).

But I'm also reminded of a line from "Star Trek: Generations" that Picard says to Riker near the end of the movie.  It goes like this:

Riker: I'm going to miss this ship; she went before her time.
Picard: Someone once told me that time was a predator that stalked us all our lives. But I rather believe than time is a companion who goes with us on the journey, and reminds us to cherish every moment because they'll never come again. What we leave behind is not as important how we lived. After all, Number One, we're only mortal.
Riker: Speak for yourself, sir. I plan to live forever.

Before I go any further, yes, I have heard of the new Picard-themed show coming to CBS and I'm beyond PSYCHED about it!

Back to what I was saying...How do you view time?  A companion who helps us to cherish the moments or a villain who refuses to bow to commands or stop for our expectations?  I think its easy to get caught up in what's lost.  But this month, I challenge you to look at what's gained.  What's something time has reminded you of?  What's something time has given that's precious?

I think about all the times in high school I worried about perception and what people saw when they looked at me.  Was I cool enough?  Did they know that *gasp* I liked Star Trek??...because in the late 1990s, it was only cool to like Star Wars.  Looking back through time, I reflect on the huge amount of time I wasted on such worries.  Seeing those tendencies in my middle school and high school kids almost feels like fingernails on a chalkboard for me.  Talk about one of the biggest wastes of time.

The blog post before this also alluded to being yourself and not writing for other people's expectations.  I even had a conversation about this with an author friend of mine during dinner.  We discussed how it wouldn't be terribly difficult to pound out something that follows the trends of the market, but how authentic would that be?  Would the story resonate or fall flat because what's being created is not something that inspired us?  Instead, it would be something our author personae would wear to be trendy, kind of like the Girbaud jeans all the cool kids were wearing in high school that I never had.  Man, I'm glad my parents never bought me an overpriced pair!

Image result for Kids at bus stop
As the school year starts, I keep reminding my kids to be themselves.  Bullies will find anything to pick on, and it doesn't matter who you try to be.  Honestly, though, I realize this is a hard concept to master.  It started in me during my college years, and I'm glad it did.  I still struggled with other values of self-worth and self-importance as I worked through my own pitfalls in suffering silently with depression, but that's a tangent to explore another day.

As the fall winds blow and my kids stand outside for their morning bus ride to school, I'll take the time to enjoy the moment.  The winds blow forward and backwards, as I easily recall my own nervousness and excitement at a new school year.  Time gives me a new perception on myself and my children.  Time holds my hand and helps me move forward with my head held high.

I think the more authentic you are in life, the easier it is to savor time.  I hope this idea will ferment in your heart and flow through your days.  Take a deep breath, sit back, and enjoy the story of your life as the pages unfold.  Its quite a good tale, wouldn't you say?