Favorite Fiction reads in the last 12 months

There are so many books that I love, but here is a sampling of a few that I’ve read over the last 12 months that I’ve particularly enjoyed. I like reading books without any major expectations, and part of my delight in the books below is that I had no idea what I was about to get! I hope that you enjoy these as well — with an open mind and expectations.

The Expanse Series by James S. A. Corey: a giant, sprawling science fiction series full of wonderful characters, politics, and alien technology. I gobbled these up with enthusiasm. There are eight main books with a handful of novellas and short stories. The television show is also delightful, but I spent the first 4 or 5 episodes upset about the differences (this actor is too pretty, that spaceship has overly large interior spaces, the plot didn’t unfold that way). Probably best to think of the books as loose inspiration for the television show.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: this big, beautiful novel delighted me on every level. The writing is fabulous, and I fell in love with the characters. I had been vaguely aware of this book for a few years, but hadn’t picked it up. Once I did, I was so glad. Friendship, work, art, and love are all explored, and I finished the book feeling better about myself and humanity. I don’t want to oversell this book, since I read it with no expectations, but I hope that you enjoy it!

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: I both loved this book and was delighted by its unexpected directions. I picked up Big Little Lies without knowing much about the story, and I rather recommend this approach. The writing has a breezy quality that is an enjoyable counterpoint to some of the punches via the plot.

Max Tudor Series by G. M. Malliet: a delightful set of murder mysteries set in contemporary England. Despite being murder mysteries, I found this series to be a comforting distraction from regular life with sweet characters and a lovely location.

Provenance by Ann Leckie: a science fiction book by one of my favorite authors. Her books are dense, wonderful explorations of alien cultures and worlds. This book is a bit less bleak than some of her others, but still takes your full attention. This was the first time I read one of her books on an e-reader, and I benefited from being able to look up words right from my reading interface (pushing on a word in a paper book does not seem to cause anything to happen).

Friday reflections: why I write

I write to entertain. To make people laugh and encourage reflection. To take people into a world of imaginary friends and possibility.

I write for myself. I write stories that I want to read, that help me feel better about who I can be. Words and ideas that I find funny and interesting and exciting. Stories that are silly and weird. I write because I love the feeling of words coming out through my fingertips. I write because I love sentence fragments. I write because my writing is not good enough.

I write for readers and the chorus of voices in my head. So that they can see themselves and discover they are not so different from other people. To have empathy. I want my readers to feel better about themselves and who they could be. I want my words to include my readers, and not push them away. I want my writing to be accessible, using language that anyone can understand and also be exposed to new ideas.

 

 

What’s happening with a new book?!?

Hello, sweet readers! I am slowly, determinedly making progress on the next novel. The edits on the very rough first draft are well underway. I’m both delighted by my very dear characters and trying to be ruthless with plot points and diversions that are not necessary.

One of the saddest cuts has been the amazing bag of holding (aka magical bag that can hold considerably more than it’s exterior dimensions) that was used by a giant to snag our heroes and save them (and their donkeys) for a snack later in the day. It’s a fun sequence, but turns out not to be relevant for any later events in the novel. Farewell!

Maybe some piece of this will make the next revision, but not the current 5,000 word exploration of giants and their magical bags. (You know what they say about giants and their magical bags…)

The title remains a mystery. Options include:

  • Of Donkeys and Dragons
  • Donkey Quest
  • A Quest of Donkeys

Feel free to weigh in on the title via whatever method you prefer you like.

A donkey at Clovelly, North Devon, England.

A donkey at Clovelly, North Devon, England. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Favorite fiction books read in 2017

I read many wonderful books in 2017! I can’t quite put my finger on the common thread of my three favorite fiction books that I read in 2017, but maybe I can identify it by the end of these recommendations. Thank you to all of the great recommendations from friends, family, and books groups!

Commonwealth: A Novel by Ann Patchett

This novel explores the delightful and challenging interweaving of two families. I loved how my understanding of the characters evolved over the course of the story, as well as their understanding of themselves.

I laughed and cried. Bonus material for attorneys.

Perfect for anyone who enjoys complex family sagas with characters that are not perfect. Not so great for readers who want clarity and clear resolution.

Buy your own copy at Powell’s Bookstore or Amazon. Or check it out from your local library.

The Alice Network: A Novel by Kate Quinn

Oof, well, if my first recommendation is an intro to imperfect characters, this spy novel takes it another level. I was deeply invested and deeply annoyed at the characters at different points. An intense read that flashes back and forth between WWI and post-WWII, I ripped through this book over a weekend.

I cried. And laughed some too. By the end, I wished I had gotten to know the characters in real life (except that they are fictional).

Great for people who like spy thrillers and high-emotion. Not so great for readers who like suspense with minimal emotional involvement.

Buy your own copy at Powell’s Bookstore or Amazon. Or check it out from your local library.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I find myself drawn to post-apocalyptic novels, and then begging for a break. I had been on a break for about a year when I finally caved to the multiple independent recommendations that I would love Station Eleven. And all my friends were right: Station Eleven had the perfect mix of a collapsed society and traveling performers that I adored.

I read this book while on vacation, while the story is dark, I also found it uplifting and hopeful. And I think I found my theme: I cried again! So much crying with my three favorite fiction books read in 2017.

Great for people who like to imagine life after the end of civilization (and perhaps civilization rising from the ashes). Not good for people who don’t enjoy imagining the end of our society as we know it.

Buy your own copy at Powell’s Bookstore or Amazon. Or check it out from your local library.

Where’d you go, Taylor Rush?

So, it’s been a year and half since I last updated my website or really posted anything on social media. What happened?

Some good things and some challenging things. I started a new job, which was immensely helpful for my mental health to have required socialization and collaboration. I took a trip to Portugal. I found social media and national events to be a toxic combination for me. And work slowly got more all-consuming.

But I got Good Fortune out the door to readers and I’m well on my way with the first rough draft of the first book in a new series of books. And I have read many wonderful books that I’m looking forward to recommending to you.

So, stay tuned and I promise more in 2018.

Summer reading to improve your life

An occasional dollop of life improvement can be tasty in the summer — but eventually we just have to live life! These are books that could be labeled as “self-help” in the most positive sense of the phrase. Below are my suggestions for great summer reading for a better life, the fourth of my four favorite types of summer reading. I have found both of these books hugely useful to visit to over the years.

A Conversation with Fear by Mermer Blakeslee helps me get up my courage to downhill ski in the winter and tackle scary activities throughout the year. The book also give me the courage to sometimes say that I’m not going to do some activities. My friend Vanessa suggested this book, and I highly recommend it to people like me who aren’t adrenaline junkies but also want to push ourselves to do some scary-feeling things.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace by Jack Kornfield is a lovely little book, full of wise, thoughtful, and gentle words from all over the world. My mother gave me this book, and I return to it often. A short reading often helps me take a deep breath and face life with a full and open heart.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
Buy on Amazon

You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Summer reading for work

These books are good for us and help balance the richness of other summer reading. My learning for work books may not match yours, but they’re both books that you may find intriguing! Below are my suggestions for great summer reading for work, the third of my four favorite types of summer reading.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande is an excellent book for thinking about the role and importance of checklists. I love making lists, and I love crossing things off a list. But I hadn’t thought much about the different kinds of lists (or the history of lists) until I read this book. Gawande uses fascinating real-life stories to help illuminate and clarify the strengths and weaknesses of different kinds of lists, as well as how their usage has evolved. I highly recommend this book to anyone who uses lists, particularly for recurring activities. And it’s fun to read too!
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott makes me laugh and helps me be a better writer! I have read this book straight through a couple of times, and I also like to read individual chapters. Lamott provides specific, concrete advice with wonderful stories about writing. It’s great for writers (professional and otherwise), but also just an interesting and funny book if you are interested in the craft of writing.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
Buy on Amazon

You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Dense, interesting summer reading suggestions

Ahh, summer: full of big, open stretches of time to read. I love having hours to dig into a big, sprawling novel with intricate, gorgeous language. Below are my suggestions for  interesting fiction books, the second of my four favorite types of summer reading.

These are dense, engaging books that we feel like we need time and mental space to properly read and absorb.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is full of political machinations, magic posturing, and competing visions of the world. I loved it. The writing is reminiscent of a dense nineteenth century novel, full of ludicrous names, very specific details, and  footnotes. Heavy enough to hurt if you drop it on yourself, I recommend reading this book with a cup of tea overlooking a mountain forest.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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Blindspot by Jane Kamensky and Jill Lepore follows a Shakespearean-esque gender-bending adventure of passion (for art and love), injustice, and miscommunication set in pre-revolutionary war Boston. The writing is dense and lovely, and requires attention when reading. There is explicit sex, so consider yourself warned. You can read my Goodreads review here.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón freaked me out. In a wonderful, horrible, creepy, full of dread kind of way. Similar to the Master and Margarita, nothing to overtly horribly happens in most of the book, but I was far happier to read this book in bright sunlight. Aside from that, the book is a wonderful glimpse into Barcelona, Spain in the first half of the twentieth century. Read it.
Buy from Powell’s Book Store
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You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!

Writing romance novels using Dungeons and Dragons

My Greywater Chronicles books are a relatively normal exploration of friendship and love. There are no monsters and no one gets stuck in a dungeon with orcs or evil sorcerers (not that I don’t want to write that book someday). But I definitely used the traditions of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) while writing my first novel.

  1. Get them all in a dungeon: Before the action even starts in Mistakes Were Made, Jules breaks both her ankles. This allowed me to keep her stuck in a recovery center–Misty Forests–for the first section of the book. Similar to how exploring a dungeon keeps role playing characters from wandering off from the intended quest, Misty Forests keeps the action and characters under control.
    My second book, Best Laid Plans, uses a different kind of limitation with the structure of the book (two chapter a season with alternating point of view). This was much more challenging and not nearly as much fun, but did force me to really try to see things through the eyes of both of my protagonists. Misty Forests was more fun, though!
  2. Alignment: a quick shorthand for the moral code that governs characters behavior in D&D, this is a fun way to think about how my characters in novels approach life. On the lawful-neutral-chaotic scale, most of my characters are in the lawful to neutral range, but I have two who tend to me closer to chaotic. On the good-neutral-evil scale, I have one brother who behaves pretty poorly, but even he is not firmly in the evil camp. And yes, the D&D Classes (or Jungian archetypes) are also helpful!
  3. Fighting when stakes are low: some of the most amusing moments in D&D can happen when the stakes are incredibly low–who drank the last goblet of ale? why are my tights stretched out? why does he always get to ask for directions? I try to remember this when my characters are starting to drift a bit. They can fight about stupid things.
  4. Adventure: what is D&D without an adventure? (rhetorical question) And so, what are my stories without some sort of adventure? This is both the larger arc of their exploration and also in little moments in a new place or in a new social interaction. Life (and stories) are more fun if we can see the adventure that we’re having, even if there aren’t any actual dragons or orcs.

I’m sure there are other D&D elements I’m using without even realizing it, and I will add them in as I realize. And someday I promise I’ll write an adventure novel. With a bard.

 

Summer reading for escape and entertainment

We’re entering the season of summer trips, hopefully with lots of lazy, unscheduled time. It’s when we seek out summer reading lists to find new reading suggestions and old favorites. Below are two fabulous book series for escape reading, my first of four favorite types summer reading.

We forget where we are when we read these books, staying up too late and gobbling up the story.

The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde: this delicious comedy series is full of absurd situations with enjoyable characters. Thursday Next lives in a world where books are very real and their storylines must be protected. The first book, The Eyre Affair, was published in 2003 with the latest book, The Woman Who Died a Lot, in 2012. They are all great fun!
Buy Eyre Affair Thursday Next Book 1 from Powell’s Book Store
Buy on Amazon

The 44 Scotland Street Series by Alexander McCall Smith: an entertaining group of residents live at 44 Scotland Street trying to make their way through the trials and tribulations of regular life. I love gentleness and affection that McCall Smith has for all his characters and the delightful web of friendships. The first book in this series is titled (shockingly) 44 Scotland Street, and was published in 2005, and the tenth book, The Revolving Door of Life, was published in 2016. They are all quick, delightful reads and I have particular affection for Bertie.
Buy 44 Scotland Street from Powell’s Book Store
Buy on Amazon

You can see my other recommendations in my blog post about my four favorite types of summer reading.

Note: if you buy books from these links, I will receive a small payment from Amazon or Powell’s. This helps cover the cost of this website. Thanks!