Books You Need to Read

I finished reading my 17th book of 2017 last night. I’ve committed to reading 70 books on the Goodreads challenge this year, and I am a little ahead of schedule – woo hoo! But I noticed something about my reading habits this year that is different than most years. My genres were all over the place. So I went through my favorites and figured the titles were varied enough that I had recommendations for everyone. So here goes (in no particular order):

MAKE ME LOVE YOU By Johanna Lindsey

To this day, the Mallory family has been one of my favorite “wish-I-could-be-one” families in literature. Just to be clear, this book covers the same time frame but does not mention the Mallorys. It just happens to be by the same author. A regency romance, this one has the brooding hero, the plucky heroine and lots of adventure romping all over England. Horses, wolves and a cat that loves sausage complete the picture. I brought this book to the table during meals, to my desk when I was supposed to be writing and sent the kids to bed early last night so I could finish it. If you love historical romances, you must read this one.

11/22/63 By Stephen King

So we all agree that Stephen King is a master storyteller. But some of his books I won’t even touch — because I know I’ll be so freaked out that I’ll probably need a prescription for anti-anxiety meds. Cell? OMG! I still shudder when I think of that one. The length of 11/22/63 might intimidate some people (at 850+ pages), but make the time. It’s SO worth it. Time travel (one of my absolute favs!), alternate reality…it was so unlike King and yet still wonderfully awesome. There are a ton of conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of JFK and I’d never really been interested enough to read about it until now. I finished this book in January and I still find myself thinking about the main character, Jake. Like he was a real person and you just wonder what he’s up to now. This one will take you a while, but keep at it. Well worth the read.

THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE By Janet Fox

I stole this one from my daughter’s bookshelf. As you can probably tell from the title, it’s intended for middle-grade and YA. But I challenge any adult Harry Potter fan not to love this one. Set in WWII, a group of children is sent to a run-down castle in Scotland to escape the London Blitz. Creepy castle…check. Mistress of the castle who isn’t exactly human…check. Nazi spy…check. Magically imbued objects…check. Lots of fun for the whole family. My daughter was dancing around, waiting until we could discuss this book without her giving anything away.

A FAMILY UNDER THE STARS By Christy Jeffries

While I am no stranger to Harlequin’s Special Edition line, Jeffries is a new-to-me author. And this review is especially for those of you who have asked me for more Scallop Shores books because you enjoy small town contemporaries, with repeat visits from characters popping back and forth between books. All her books are set in the fictional town of Sugar Falls, ID. This one involves a rugged outdoorsman and a by-the-book lifestyles expert. Doesn’t get much different than that, right? I absolutely fell in love with the grumpy grandfather, and her kids were adorably unique. Jeffries is wonderful at dropping in backstory and adding layer upon layer to her characters in just a sentence or two scattered here and there. I finished her book and thought, “Can I be her when I grow up?” Not only is this going in my keeper stack, but it’s on my reference shelf when I need help with my own plot structure.

THE LADIES ROOM By Carolyn Brown

I’d categorize this one as women’s fiction. There is romance in this book, but the main focus of the story is on Trudy and how her life gets turned upside down when she overhears some shocking news in the ladies room during her great-aunt’s funeral. Are you a big DIY fan? Trudy tackles some major renovations. Awkward/hurtful family interactions? By the boatload! I felt bad for Trudy. I felt hopeful. I cheered her on when things looked bleak. And I hollered out loud when she stood up for herself. She’s a gutsy gal and I think every woman out there will find a piece of themselves in this complex character. Read this one. Seriously.

Okay, your turn. You’ve seen a little bit about the kind of books I’m drawn to. What recommendations do you have for me? Time travel? Spooky castles and magic? Sexy, brooding heroes? I’ve got over 50 books left to read this year if I’m going to win the challenge. Help a girl out.

 

I Should Be…

 

I should be writing but…

I’m doing an emergency load of wash for Big Sis, who HAS to wear her green pair of pants today. I’m researching ideas for Little Guy, because he wants to ENTERTAIN everyone at the science fair this year. I’m helping hubby go door-to-door passing out flyers for the cub scout food drive because it was pouring too hard when he took the scouts out on Saturday.

I should be exercising but…

It’s raining…again. The treadmill sounds like it’s dying. I’m bored with my playlist. My workout clothes are now too small. My sneakers pinch my pinky toes.

I should be cooking better dinners but…

That huge bag of fish sticks is going to get freezer burned if I don’t use it up. The more effort I put in, the less everyone eats. My knives are dull, I can’t chop anything. I’ve gotten used to putting dinner on the table in less than fifteen minutes, thanks to Uncle Bens microwaveable rice. I hate cooking — I hate spending any amount of time in my kitchen. I hate my kitchen.

I should be doing laundry (the dishes, picking up) but…

There are only two more episodes of the latest Netflix addiction to watch. I’m drowning in my stack of TBR books – paperbacks and Kindle. It’s my turn on Words By Post (I play 12 games concurrently.) No one is home, it’s quiet and I don’t want to ruin the silence by running all sorts of chugging machines.

I should be promoting my books/brand but…

Does anyone really see it anyway? I feel like I’m pimping myself out – it’s way too uncomfortable. I’ve spent my life avoiding attention, so “Hey, look at me!” is not a concept I’m familiar with. I start helping other authors promote their books instead. I start one-clicking MORE books for my TBR pile while I’m on Amazon. I spend time talking to Disney and Tolkien fans, instead of potential readers, on Twitter.

I should be enjoying a glass of wine at the end of a long day but…

I’m herding Big Sis out of the steamy bathroom–where she’s spent the last 45 minutes using up my hot water. I’m listening to Little Guy’s latest “what if” story that involves dogs that can talk and walk on two legs, when he’s supposed to be sleeping. The dog waited until I sat down to tell me she really has to pee. When I got up to let the dog out, the cat stole my spot on the couch.

 

What’s My Motivation?

Have those of you who work outside the home ever called in and said “Sorry, just not feeling it today. I’m going to stay home and play games on Facebook all day. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.” Of course not. That would get you fired. So those of us who work from home should be subject to the same rules, albeit enforced by ourselves, rather than a boss. Right? Except writer brains don’t work like other brains. Some days (okay, in my case, weeks) the words just aren’t there. The urge to sit down and get creative is just…missing.

And because I see all these posts on Facebook about the super-productive authors with ten kajillion projects going at once, the ones who have charts and schedules for which blog post comes out on which day, and how many thousand pages they are going to edit on which book and all the new book contracts they’re signing this week…I feel guilty. I’m not working hard enough. Heck, I’m not working at all, so let’s call a spade a spade. I’m a fraud. If I’m not writing, I cannot call myself a writer.

Guilt turned to panic. I haven’t had a new release out in over a year. My readers are going to forget my name. They’ll have moved on to the next author who actually releases on a reliable schedule. Then panic to hopelessness. What’s the point? The first book in my latest trilogy has been rejected repeatedly. Why even finish the series? Does anyone really want to read this? It may be the book/series of MY heart, but that doesn’t mean everyone else is going to fall in love with it.

Writing can be a very solitary existence. And it’s easy to forget that there are others out there who might be going through the exact same thing I was struggling with. So I reached out. And it felt so good to talk with another author who knew just how I was feeling. She told me it was okay, healthy in fact, to give myself permission to take a break. To refill the creative well. She suggested I put a time limit on it, a deadline that would force me back into my chair and getting back to the business of storytelling.

I started to get excited. I thought about all the walks I was going to take with the dog, snapping pictures along the way. I thought of all the plant nurseries I was planning to visit, because something about nature and flowers is connected to my writing. I can’t explain it…it just is. I picked up a book I’d promised to read and review. I told myself that it was okay to put someone else’s book first for a change. I queued up Netflix and looked for a new bingeworthy series.

 

But while I was busy telling myself it was okay to step back, I was already feeling the stirrings of something new. And, let me tell you, the floodgates have truly opened wide. My head is full of blog post ideas, new series’ ideas, people I want to contact, publishers I want to query. I’m considering self-publishing for the first time in my writing career. This excitement — a reason to scramble out of bed in the morning and get to work — it had been missing for a long time and I was worried it would never come back. But I am so thrilled that it did. Yeah, it’s making me a little bonkers because I haven’t laid everything out in a “first this, then that” type of pattern, but I’m enjoying figuring out what fights its way to the top. Today the blog post. Tomorrow a little research, perhaps. But I’m back, baby! I’m not a fraud after all. Just a creative person who was in a bit of a slump. It happens to all of us, and it’s not the end of the world.

Sending Mixed Signals

Oh, my poor kids! Some days I feel like I should be putting aside money, not just for their college tuition, but also for the therapy they are going to need to make it in the world as fully-functioning adults. Yeah, I know… “Cut yourself some slack, Jenn. Every mom makes mistakes.” Anyone else do these?

Teach your child not to lie.     Then after a few missed nights of reading, you encourage them to “fudge” an entry or two on their reading log. “But Mama, that’s lying to the teacher!” She wants to see you did your best and you want to show her your best. So just write it down. Bad mom! Last Monday Little Guy brought home a poem and was told he wouldn’t get credit for learning it (thus moving on to the next poem with the rest of the class) unless he’d read it out loud to at least two family members per day. Those listeners were to sign the back of the poem and comment on his reading. I dug it out of a stack of papers today as I was getting his stuff ready for school. So, you guessed it, we “fudged” a weeks’ worth of entries. Bad mom!

Foster independence.     Suggest the kids make their own lunches. It’s good for them, right? But then you find them throwing nothing but granola bars and cookies (with the occasional piece of fruit) into their lunch bags. So you take the task back. They have more free time in the morning and you don’t have to police their actions, so there is more peace. Confession: the biggest reason I took back lunch-making was to be able to go through the pantry to toss in items that the kids refuse to finish. You know the snacks that have sat there for months, and are close to expiring, because something cooler came along? You won’t eat this at home? You’ll eat it at school. (Or, more likely the case, throw it out at school where I can’t see them do it.)

Limit their screen time.     Kids should play and spend time being kids. Get outside and run around in the fresh air. But then it’s winter in Seattle… rain. All.The.Time. They want to stay in and play on the Xbox, the computer, their tablet. They’re whining about how bored they are. But give them the Xbox, the computer or the tablet and the house goes silent. I can get some work done. No one is bugging me. It’s a terrible and beautiful thing, this peace that comes over the house. Hubby tries to reason that video games improve hand/eye coordination. But do they really???

Treat everyone equally.     I try to make sure that both kids have chores that they are capable of completing. I avoid separate bedtimes so that Little Guy doesn’t feel so…little. But here’s where it gets tough: sleepovers. She gets invited over to her best friends’ quite often. He has never been invited to a sleepover. She could have a friend come over and the girls have no problem keeping the level of crazy at a slow boil. He might be able to do that too. But I’m too scared to give him the opportunity. I think “two 8 year old boys running loose through my house” and gray hairs start pushing their way through my scalp. He says “it’s not fair!” and he’s RIGHT! So instead of allowing him to host a sleepover, I stop letting her host them. Selfish mom, much?

Too many sweets is bad for you.     Oh, but it’s okay for mommy to have her own “chocolate drawer” in the kitchen — that no one else is allowed to touch. And then the morning after allowing Little Guy to bid on (and win) not one but TWO cakes at the Cub Scout blue and gold banquet’s cake auction, offering to let them eat cake for breakfast. What kind of mom does this? A mom that has two huge freaking cakes that need to go… need to disappear… like, yesterday! Next year I’m just going to hand over my money to help the pack and not even bid on the cakes.

Parenting is tough. Get the kids through another day and we can call it a win. At least for now. Lecture them on the evils of alcohol and then sit down to enjoy a glass of wine. Hey, our parents sent us mixed signals of their own and we turned out okay. Sorta. How about you? Do you send your kids mixed signals? Are there any biggies I missed?