Posted in Reading

Carie’s Lists: The Best Books I Read in 2016

Happy New Year!

I’m thrilled to welcome 2017 into our lives. Overall, 2016 was EXHAUSTING, but I did read some good books.

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Gabby & Uno exhausted from 2016

My goal this year was to read at least 50 books and no more than 75. (Read this post to find out why my reading goal had a cap.) I achieved my goal, reading a total of 66 books. (Goodreads claims I only read 53, but that’s because a couple of the books I read aren’t on Goodreads, and because I don’t re-rate the ones I re-read, but I do re-count them in my official book journal.)

Here are some of my favorites:

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The Best Books I Read in 2016

Best New Book in a Series: The Creeping Shadow (Lockwood & Co. #4) by Jonathan Stroud

I can’t say enough good things about the Lockwood & Co. series. I LOVE these books. They made my best books list last year too. I love the setting. I love the plot twists. I love the humor and the horror. I love the characters so much that I miss them terribly the moment the book ends. I also love-hate the cliffhanger endings. The Creeping Shadow left off with a BIG reveal and now I’m pining for book 5.

Best Middle Grade Novel (and Strangest Idea for a Story Ever): The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Steve’s baby brother is sick. Very sick. And wasps, one of the many things Steve is afraid of, have taken up residence in a nest outside his house. But the wasp queen comes to Steve in his dreams and says they can fix the baby. They can make everything better. They’re there to help. But are they really? What is the price of their help? And why has no one ever seen this type of wasp before? And who is the odd man who sells knives from his van?

This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read (or listened to, on audio book). It kept me intrigued until the very end and genuinely scared me at times. Great horror novel for young readers.

Best YA Novel: Tie between The Walls Around Us and Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

I just saw that Nova Ren Suma has a new book coming out in 2017. It is currently untitled and there are zero details about it on Goodreads, but I marked it as “to read” because if it’s anything like The Walls Around Us or Imaginary Girls, it will be amazing. Read about why I love her work here.

Best YA Novel with LGBTQ Characters: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Funny. Touching. Sexy. Heart-wrenching. Adorable. Real. You don’t have to identify as LGBTQ to relate to Simon’s story. Anyone who’s ever fallen in love in high school will see themselves in this book.

Best Middle Grade Novel with LGBTQ Characters: George by Alex Gino

George is a fourth grade girl in a boy’s body, but no one knows her secret. When her class reads Charlotte’s Web, George falls in love with the beautiful spider and wants to play her in the school’s performance of the book. She knows she’s the best person for the part. There’s only one problem– boys can’t try out for the role of Charlotte, and everyone thinks George is a boy. With the help of a trusted friend, George finds a way to show the world who she really is.

This is a sweet story, and an important one.

Best Graphic Novel: Ms. Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson

Ok, the whole truth? This is the only graphic novel I read this year. But this charming origin story of a Muslim girl in New Jersey who becomes a superhero was so good that it made me want to read more.

Funniest Book: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

Last June, Jenny Lawson was the keynote speaker at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and I got to meet her when she signed my copy of this book of hilarious essays. It was so amazing to hear her speak and to get a hug from her. I can’t explain why I waited six months to read her book. Maybe I was worried it could never live up to her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Or maybe it’s because I knew how much I would love it and wanted to savor it. Who knows. All I know is that I’m glad I waited because this book was just as funny and relatable as her first one, and it was the best book to read during the wonderful/stressful/joyous/exhausting weeks of the holidays. I laughed out loud (literally– I cackled) so much while reading this book, but I also learned a lot about what it’s like to struggle with mental illness. If you are a fan of irreverent humor and/or want to read multiple stories involving Jenny Lawson’s “lady garden,” go get this book today.

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Me & Jenny at #WLT2016. It’s blurry because we’re both a bit tipsy. (That’s how that works.)

Saddest Book: Out of Darkness by Ashley Hope Perez

This is a good book, but it is a dark book, and you should know that going in. Ashley Hope Perez is a brilliant writer and an incredible teacher. I took a workshop with her at The Writing Barn last January, and I left full of energy and inspiration. Her powerful story of love and loss and racism and abuse set in east Texas in 1937 received a Printz Honor in 2016. If you read it, you’ll understand why.

Best Poetry Collection: Language of Crossing by Liza Wolff-Francis

It’s hard for me to choose favorites among books of poetry. They’re all so unique and personal. My tastes change from day to day, sometimes from moment to moment, depending on my mood. But Liza Wolff-Francis’s chapbook about the US/Mexico border spoke to me on a deep level. She puts into words the struggles of the Mexican immigrants and gives voice to the horrors they face. This is a small, but powerful collection of poems.

Best Re-Read: Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

This year, I finally decided to re-read the Harry Potter series. I listened to all seven books, back to back, and I’m so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed reliving this series that meant so much to me, my family, and my students. Here are my thoughts about tagging along on Harry’s adventures a second time.

Story That Stayed With Me the Longest: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

This year, I finally read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and I loved it. Shirley Jackson is a masterful storyteller. It’s hard to talk about this novel without giving anything, so I’m just going to say, go read it. It’s short and surprising and unique and will linger in your thoughts for weeks after reading it.

Most Surprising Book to Make This List: Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds by Dav Pilkey

There was a consistently empty shelf in the elementary school library where I used to work labeled “Captain Underpants.” It was empty because the books were always checked out. The kids loved them, coveted them, sometimes fought over them. I knew nothing about them except that they looked silly and most adults I knew rolled their eyes when they mentioned them. I’d never read one. Then, over Thanksgiving, my family celebrated my niece’s sixth birthday and she squealed with glee when she opened a box full of Captain Underpants books. Later, after turkey and pie and more pie and birthday cake, when I had taken up permanent residence on the couch, I picked up one of the books and read it. And now I get why kids like these books so much. It was funny! More than once I laughed out loud at the clever puns and silly scenarios. It’s fast-moving and action-packed, and there are cartoons and drawings scattered throughout. I was quite pleasantly surprised. It’s not like I’m going to go out and read the whole series, but I definitely understand why the books are hits with kids and won’t be rolling my eyes about them anymore.

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This year, I’m not setting a reading goal. I don’t need to. I love to read, and I love letting books pile up. I love making lists of novels I *must* read and then finding new stories that catch my eye before I can finish the old ones. I look forward to whatever books 2017 has in store for me. Let a new year of reading begin. 🙂

What was the best book YOU read in 2016?

Posted in Random, Reading

Book Giveaway Winners!

Happy New Year!

It’s time to reveal the winners of my December book giveaway! Thank you to everyone who commented on my blog and Facebook page this past month. I’ve enjoyed connecting with you.

It’s time for the big moment. My dog let me borrow his hat for the drawing. (Thanks, Uno!)

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All the contestants have entered the arena.

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I let my trusty sidekick, a.k.a. husband, draw the names, so if you didn’t get picked, you can blame him. Here are the winners in the order they were chosen.

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Congratulations to Nicole Arntz, Annie Neugebauer, and Melodie Camp!

Since Nicole’s name was drawn twice (lucky!) I decided to draw a fourth card. Nicole will get first choice of books and a bonus item– a copy of the newly released 2014-2015 Best Austin Poetry.

I’ll be contacting the winners shortly to get mailing addresses and find out which book you want. Here are the choices:

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Thank you again to everyone who participated in the giveaway. Have a wonderful 2016, and happy reading! 🙂

Posted in Life, Writing

7 Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions

Resolutions

To Resolve or Not to Resolve, That is the Question 

It’s that time of year again, the time of looking ahead, writing lists, setting goals, making resolutions. At least for some people. For others, the mere mention of the R word brings them stress.

If you’re one of those reluctant resolvers, jaded from past experiences, you should know you’re not alone. The fear of not being able to put a checkmark next to each goal at the end of the year keeps many people from making a list at all.

But, despite the possibility of disappointment, I still say resolve. Setting goals and working toward positive changes in your life and your work is good for you. Just do it in a way that allows for success without setting yourself up for failure. Here are some things that have worked for me.

Tips for Taking the Stress Out of New Year’s Resolutions

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1. Celebrate Your Accomplishments

Before you make plans for 2015, take some time to celebrate the good stuff from this year. Whether you made resolutions for 2014 or not, make a list of 10 things you accomplished during the year. Then go look at your goals (if you had any) and compare. Even if there aren’t many checkmarks on the initial list, you now have a new one to be proud of. Keep it next to the one you make for the new year.

Some of my 2014 accomplishments were…

* According to Goodreads, I read 80 books this year, a personal record.
* I finished the first draft of my novel and pitched it to agents at my first writing conference.
* I learned to cook six new vegetarian dishes, including Rumbledethumps.
* I started this blog. (Click here to read my first post.)

2. Use a Thesaurus

If you’ve had bad experiences in your past with New Year’s resolutions, then it’s possible the word itself makes your skin crawl. So don’t use it. Set goals instead. Or intentions. Or plans. Or wishes even. That’s not exactly the same thing, but who cares? Think about how psyched you’ll be at the end of 2015 if you can tell people that some of your wishes came true this year. Pretty cool, right?

3. Ignore the Calendar

There is no day of the year with more pressure on its poor shoulders than December 31st. Think about it: Christmas was just a few days ago and you’re still full of pecan pie and gingerbread cookies, so you’re trying to function through a sugar haze. It’s possible you’ve been traveling and have just arrived home to an empty fridge and a full laundry basket. Or maybe you’re still on vacation and just now realizing that you didn’t pack enough underwear. If you’re young and single, December 31st means figuring out which party to go to, determining what to wear, and wondering whom you might kiss. If you’re not so young and married like me, it means figuring out what movie to watch on Netflix, determining exactly how many minutes you have to stay up after midnight before you can go to bed, and wondering if it’s okay to put on your pjs before the ball drops in New York. And somewhere in this champagne-addled state, you’re supposed to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions.

It’s just too much.

So forget it. Enjoy your New Year’s Eve. Drink champagne and kiss people and watch bad movies and fall asleep on the couch and be merry and stay safe. The resolutions can wait. Make them whenever you want. There’s not really an expiration date. For a few years in a row I found January 8th to be an auspicious day for goal-setting. Last year I went traditional and made my list on the first, but then I added a few more things on the twelfth and lightning didn’t strike me down or anything. So take your time. It’s okay.

4. Stack the Deck in Your Favor

You may not accomplish all of your goals. It’s true, and it’s something you should accept from the start. If it happens, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure, just that you need more time or more practice or a more appropriate objective. But you can give yourself a better chance of succeeding by making your goals attainable.

For instance, if you’re a writer, don’t resolve to publish a certain number of poems or stories. That’s not really something you have control over. Instead, resolve to submit a certain number. That keeps the reins in your hands.

5. Balance the Scales

Let your resolutions (or intentions or wishes) reflect all aspects of your life. Don’t just set goals about your health or your work or your relationship. Your life is a combination of all of those things and more. If you’re a writer and your goal list is full of nothing but drafts and pages and submissions, then there’s a good chance that every time you do anything else, you’re going to feel guilty about it. Then again, if your resolutions are full of places you want to travel and exotic foods you want to eat, you may be setting yourself up for an unproductive year. Find a balance in your to-do list so that no matter what aspect of your life you’re focusing on at the moment, you can still be working toward your goals.

6. Give Yourself Some Space

Some people keep their resolutions in plain sight—on the fridge or over their workspace—as a constant reminder of their priorities. I do not. I don’t like my goals staring me in the face every day, making me feel guilty about taking a nap or checking Facebook. I need a little distance between my list and my life. But not too much. Sticking your resolutions on a shelf and ignoring them until next December won’t work either. I suggest keeping them at arm’s reach, literally. Mine are in a closed journal on my desk, so they’re not glaring at me when I first walk in the room, but they’re close enough for me to reach over and check on them anytime I want. They’re out of sight, but not out of mind.

7. Embrace the Present Moment

During all the looking forward and looking back that happens at this time of year, don’t forget to stop once in a while and just look around you. What are you doing? Who are you with? How do you feel?

Right now, it’s 11:45pm on December 30th. I’m drinking a cup of decaf coffee out of my new Christmas mug and listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” while I type this blog post at my desk. My blinds are open despite the late hour and I can see the colored lights on the bushes outside, swaying slightly in the cold wind. My cat is taking a bath on the bed behind me and I know that any minute now he’s going to jump in my lap and try to edit what I’m writing. I just heard my husband sneeze. This is my present moment. No matter what I accomplished this year, no matter what might happen when I change the calendar to January, right now I’m at home and I’m writing and I’m happy.

What’s happening right now is just as important as anything on your list. After all, those goals won’t accomplish themselves. In order to earn some checkmarks at the end of the year, you’re going to have to spend some of your present moments working toward them. You can do it.

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Good Luck and Happy New Year!