The best books I read in 2016

I read lots of good books in 2016 across several different genres. I always enjoy revisiting a few old favorites as well as discover new books and authors. Here are a few of the best books I read this year.

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead will probably be the last book I finish this year. It is without a doubt one of the best. I discovered Whitehead through the recommendation of a friend in the early 2000s. His first book, The Intuitionist, had come out to much critical and commercial acclaim. I read it and liked it. But I didn’t read any of his subsequent books over the years, until The Underground Railroad. I recognized it’s author from his first book. And I couldn’t ignore this book after it won the National Book Award. His writing impressed me in his first book, and it wowed me in his latest one. Whitehead’s story of that famous “railroad” is brought with a combination of well-done research, sympathetic characters, and self-assured, lyrical prose. I will be reading the books of Whitehead’s that I missed, and I give his latest book my highest recommendation.

 

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The second book on my list is also historical fiction. It comes from one of my favorite writers that I discovered this year. Erika Robuck writes historical fiction revolving around the lives of famous writers. She caught my attention with novels based on the lives of two of my favorite authors: Ernest Hemingway (Hemingway’s girl) which is pictured above, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Call Me Zelda). She has written several other novels as well. Robuck has a wonderful way of writing about complex characters and relationships, while painting a clear picture of the specific time and place. I was also honored she accepted my invitation to talk about her books, and writing in general on my podcast, La Literati.

 

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I read A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman with my friend, Jenny. It’s a story about a grumpy curmudgeon who has his life disrupted by people he would rather not have anything to do with. What follows is a novel with equal amounts of humorous and heart-warming moments. I’ve also recently seen a movie trailer, so I look forward to watching the film adaptation of this story.

 

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Next on my list is unique in that it is a one-act play written by my friend, Briana Morgan. Touch is a drama that takes place in a world where deliberate physical contact is a crime. The main character has never spent much time questioning this taboo. But the arrest of some of her classmates changes this. She decides to do it, and discoveres the power of touch, and how it affects people. It’s a short, thought-provoking read that I enjoyed.

 

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I am a great fan of Westerns. This is probably due to my Dad’s enjoyment of John Wayne movies. In time, I came to love the Westerns that Clint Eastwood starred in. At any rate, I seek out these types of stories in books and movies. Fortunately, there are quite a few good ones to be enjoyed. True Grit is one of my favorites. I watched the movie with John Wayne playing the role of Rooster Cogburn. But I didn’t learn that it was a book until the remake came out with Jeff Bridges playing the marshal. I love this story, and prefer the remake to the original, which is a point of friendly contention between my Dad and me.

 

readyplayerone

The last two books I want to mention are science fiction and fantasy, respectively. In Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, we are in the year 2044. Wade, the main character, like many other people don’t care much for the real world. Their escape is the OASIS, which is a virtual utopia created by James Halliday. Halliday has hidden clues to a golden egg: a massive fortune that is promised to the person who can solve all the riddles steeped in 1980s pop culture references. Halliday grew up in that decade, as I did. So that made this story a fun read. But even if you don’t understand or like all of the pop culture references, there is still the virtual quest with some romance added to the mix to keep you entertained.

 

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The last book is a modern fantasy, Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I heard about it through a combination of online buzz, and friends working at Barnes & Noble who kept asking me if I had read it yet. The Dragon is not a literal dragon, but a man. He is a magician who lives in a tower outside of town. The Dragon protects the town from the evil forces in the Wood. As part of the arrangement, the Dragon takes a girl from the town every ten years to serve him and live with him in the tower, after which time she leaves to start her life over eslewhere.

The time for the next choosing is nigh. And Agnieszka fears what everyone thinks, that the Dragon will choose her best friend Kasia. But he doesn’t choose her. What follows is a very original story with elements of folklore and fairy-tale.

 

So these were a few of my favorite books that I read this year. I would love to hear what you thought of any of these that you read. And what books would make your list of the best books you read this year?

“Self Help to Self Harm: The Dubious Guide to Life, Love, and Relationships”- a review

My friend, Tosha Michelle, is a woman of many talents. She is a gifted singer, writer, and artist. I am in awe of the skill she displays at all three. I would be happy if I could do one as well as she. In addition to her creative talents, she is one of the kindest souls I have had the good fortune to encounter. And her quirky sense of humor is the perfect compliment to her well-rounded personality.

She put her poetic talents on display in her book Confessions of a Reformed Southern Belle: A Poet’s Collection of Love, Loss, and Renewal. She also showed the beginnings of a penchant for long book titles. But I digress… She opened up herself to her readers with the beauty of her words and creativity.

Now Tosha Michelle is back with her own unique addition to the self help genre: Self Help to Self Harm: The Dubious Guide to Life, Love, and Relationships. In its pages she draws from her life experience to give both women and men advice on dealing with the opposite gender, and life in general. She does this with a combination of openness, grace, humor, and confidence that only a daughter of the South can.

But don’t let the title fool you. There is plenty of wisdom in this book. Reading it feels like she is sitting with me, sharing a box of Godiva chocolates (kidding- I would let her keep those all to herself), and conversing about life with the sister I never had. This is a book I will enjoy plucking from my bookshelf regularly for its wonderful glimpse into the mind and heart of one of my favorite people. And I hope you will read and enjoy this book as well.

You can purchase it from Barnes & Noble here

And Amazon.com here

 

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20 Random Questions With Author, Raelee May Carpenter

My friend and La Literati cohost, Tosha, has posted interviews with guests we have had on our podcast to her blog. You can find her blog here. It seemed like fun, so I invited our recent guest, the writer Raelee May Carpenter, to answer 20 random questions from me. I hope you enjoy reading, and check out Raelee’s books if you haven’t already.

 

1. What three items do you always have with you?

A pencil or pen with sticky notes. My iPod. And lip balm, because I am an addict.

2. If you were going to write an article about yourself, what would the headline be?

“Grace In the Gutter”

3. If you were a drink, what would you be? Why?

Irish Breakfast Tea, bold yet surprisingly comforting. But with fresh cream and local honey, because I ain’t low cal.

4. What childhood fear do you still have as an adult?

Spiders. Seriously. Not even Charlotte could save me from that.

5. If you could choose just one thing to change about the world, what would it be?

Everyone would quit devaluing people based on stupid things like poverty, lack of education, nationality, developmental disabilities, etc. It would solve so many other problems if we truly believed all were created equal.

6. What’s your favorite poem?

It’s a hard choice, but “The Death of the Hired Man” by Robert Frost immediately comes to mind. It’s such a good picture of grace, and I love the line, “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

So either that or Psalm 46. It’s so descriptive and inspiring, my favorite Psalm, definitely. It got under my skin in a big way when a certain politician misquoted it in a huge televised speech a while back. I’m still trying to let that go. If I’m ever famous enough to meet said politician, I’ll probably make a little mural of my favorite Psalm—with the right words, frame it, and present it to him as a gift.

7. Does darkness soothe you or frighten you?

It depends. I love sunshine during the day, but when I’m trying to sleep, I need dark. What I don’t like is gray, like the sky can’t make up its mind. That’s just frustrating.

8. If you ruled your own country, who would you get to write your national anthem?

Adam Levine, because if my country’s gonna have an anthem, I want it to be a Hit. Mad royalties and all that.
Seriously, though, am I allowed to go back in time? I’d really want Fanny Crosby to write it. She was awesome. “Blessed Assurance” is my anthem. If I have to pick someone who’s alive today, I don’t know…maybe Stevie Wonder?

9. If Hollywood made a movie about your life, who would play you? What would the title be?

Geez, I don’t know. I love Taraji Henson, but I’m so pathetically white. How’s Keira Knightley’s American accent? Maybe Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, or Ellie Kemper, who plays Kimmy Schmidt. Haha, how’s that for variety?
The title would be “ImPossible.”

10. Clowns- creepy or cool?

Creepy. So, so creepy. I think It ruined clowns for my entire generation. Thank you, Stephen King.

11. If you made a documentary, what would it be about?

Modern Day Abolition work

12. What’s your favorite song?

Today, I’ll say Britt Nicole’s “Still That Girl,” because hazel eyes notwithstanding, I am that girl.

13. Your favorite country to visit?

Hard choice. I have a list of places that I haven’t been yet, but Ireland is a wonderful place that I have been, and I’d like to go back someday. There are still a lot of places here in the US that I want to see or go back to.

14. Does pressure motivate you?

I have ADHD, so I have this constant drive in my brain and my limbs that makes it hard for me to relax. I tend to get a lot done on my normal setting, and added pressure is more of a distraction than anything else.

15. Does love dry up your creative juices, or make them flow faster?

Faster. Definitely.

16. Do you hear voices?

I can hear my character’s voices. That’s why I’m so good at writing dialogue. So good, in fact, I can make you hear them, too. 

17. Are you the paranoid type or calm, cool, and collected?

I’m not paranoid, but I do have ADHD, so I don’t think anyone would describe me as “calm.” Haha.

18. Narnia or Middle Earth?

Oh, I don’t know. Narnia is the fantasy of my childhood, but Middle Earth has so much adventure! I’d also really, really love to have a TARDIS. So many ‘verses, so little time!

Unless you do have a TARDIS… 😉

19. Are you more like fire or earth?

Fire. Yeah. LOL

20. What makes you, you?

Oh, I think you’d have to ask God that. I am His, as He made me, and I’m still trying to figure it all out.

Raelee May Carpenter is the author of “The Lincoln High Project”, “Kings & Shepherds”, and the upcoming novel, “Liberation Song”. You can find information on her and her books at raeleemaycarpenter.com

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Confessions of a Reformed Southern Belle- a review

Confessions of a Reformed Southern Belle: A Poet’s Collection of Love, Loss, and Renewal is the first book of poems published by Tosha Michelle. In its pages, readers will find an unique voice; a voice that cries out for universal good in the form of justice, understanding, and love. Her love of books, writing, and creativity in general, come through in vivid display as well.

Join her as she explores the trio of themes from the subtitle: love, loss, and renewal. Fall under the trance of her melodic wordplay, just as I did years ago. Yes, hers is a familiar voice to me as I am fortunate to call her my friend. And I am excited for others who will be introduced to her talent by this book. A word of caution though- be careful of that narcissistic, rock star cat of hers.

 

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Read more of Tosha Michelle’s writing here

Buy her book in paper and digital formats here

Top Ten Books

Distilling all the books I have read into a top ten list is a challenge. But this is the challenge I have presented myself. In the process of making this list, I was tempted more than once to make it a top twelve, or fifteen, or… well, you get the picture. I love this list. It is a balance of fiction and nonfiction, and it represents my lifetime in books. I decided to arrange it not in order of preference, but in the order in which I read them (to the best of my memory).

My Side Of The Mountain by Jean Craighead George

My_Side_of_the_MountainThis book about a boy named Sam who tires of his cramped life in New York City and runs away from home, where he learns that he needs to find a balance between spending time alone in nature and being with the family and friends he loves. I identified with Sam’s struggle, as I loved to roam the woods behind my house. But I also enjoyed coming back to see what my loved ones were up to while I was gone.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

34b6e893e7a06387e97e5110.LMy next favorite book comes from high school required summer reading. It is a story of the friendship and rivalry between two prep school friends. Writing any more about it might give up the plot, so I’ll just say I think teenagers, especially boys, will find much to identify with in this book.

Transcendentalist writers

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I cheated a little here by picking a movement, and not a single book. Transcendentalists beliefs of being true to yourself instead of following others, and relying on your instict/intuition instead of knowledge have a lot of appeal to me. Though I do love to learn, and value knowledge, I strive to live as simple and natural a life as possible and practical. Raplph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are two of my favorite Transcendentalist writers.

On Writing by Stephen King

200px-OnwritingI am a fan of King’s work, having read probably eighty percent of his bibliography. His Dark Tower cycle of stories is phenomenal. I envy his imagination and writing ability. So, I immediately bought his book on writing when it came out. He tells of his love of writing and gives advice about style and the business side of writing. I recommend it to any fan of writing and/or of King himself.

Iron John By Robert Bly

200px-Iron_JohnIron John (or Iron Hans) was originally a Grimm fairytale. In 1990, Robert Bly wrote this book, which started a men’s movement. Bly uses Jungian psychology, and various myths, legends, folklores, and fairy tales throughout the book. He believes that the fairy tale of a boy maturing into adulthood with the help of the wild man contains lessons modern man can find useful to help him be his best.

Eats, Shoots, & Leaves by Lynne Truss

eats-shoots-and-leaves1I am a grammar geek. I love everything about writing: from first draft to final edit. Word choice, puncuation- I love it all. This book by Lynne Truss is a cheeky guide to proper punctuation that is as hilarious as it is informative.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

61CJwhOP78LSophie’s World is a book about a young girl who begins receiving letters from a mysterious man. In each letter is a philosophy lesson. The elements of mystery and the learning of philosophy make this an interesting read.

On The Road by Jack Kerouac

9780670063260I was surprised how much I liked this book. Kerouac’s story about road trip, adventure, and living life to its fullest is a wonderful book that everyone should experience. I got caught up in the poetic musicality of the book and the heart of the Beat movement.

Quiet by Susan Cain

quiet_bookIntroverts make up a third to a half of the people you are around every day. I am one of that number. Yet, it seems like introverts are undervalued today. Everyone loves the happy, gregarious people among us. But Cain puts forth an Introvert’s manifesto, explaining the many benefits of our temperment; and, yes, the drawbacks, too. Reading this book was to discovery myself on every page. Read this book to understand yourself, or a quiet, reserved loved one.

the perks of being a wallflower by stephen chbosky

perks-of-being-a-wallflowerThis is the story of Charlie, an introvert and high school freshman. The story is told in letters written by Charlie to an unknown recipient. Charlie says this recipient is the only person he can trust. We follow Charlie as he struggles with the complicated issues of friendship, unrequited love, and putting his past behind him. Perhaps the most important lesson Charlie learns is to live his life, and not just react to events in his life.

So, there you have it. This is my top ten favorite books at this moment. This list will probably change in the near future. But these books will always be among my favorites. What do you think of this list? What books would make your top ten? I’d love to hear as I am always looking for new books to read.

La Literati

A while ago, my dear friend Tosha asked me if I might want to host a podcast with her about books and writing. She and I are always reading, writing, and talking about those subjects. One of the things I miss most about not working in a bookstore is the chance to talk about books and writing with lots of different people. And Tosha and I both know lots of cool creative types. Tosha wrote about it here, and I reblogged it. But I thought this was a good time for a reminder. 🙂

A part of me was scared of the idea, though. Being an introvert, I am much more comfortable sitting back and listening while letting others do all the talking. But, truth be told, I couldn’t turn down the chance to team up with my friend and do this. We consider this our way of helping the writers, bloggers, and publishers we know get more attention. We had our first show last night with best-selling author Mara Purl as our first guest. And it was so much fun. I look forward to many interesting conversations in the future. We hope you will join us! Below are links to our page on Blog Talk Radio, where you will be able to listen to any of our shows, and our Facebook page. We would love for you to take a look as you have the chance.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/laliteraticarpelibrum

https://www.facebook.com/carpelibrumblogtalkradio

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the perks of being a wallflower

The novel the perks of being a wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, was published in 1999. The movie came out in 2012. I remember the book selling very well from the time I started working at Barnes & Noble in 2000. I don’t remember how quickly, but it made its way onto the summer reading lists of several local schools. After seeing the previews for the film adaptation I finally decide to put it on my reading list.

The first clue that I would enjoy it came when I read a blurb on the back cover comparing it to A Separate Peace and Catcher in the Rye, two books also about young men passing from adolescence to adulthood. I have read these two books many times and enjoyed them. “Wallflower” gives a modern treatment to this popular theme, so it is not for everyone. Charlie, the main character, finds himself in many adult situations during the course of his story, so consider yourself forewarned.

Charlie is a high school freshman, and he struggles with all of the familiar teen problems: fitting in while staying true to yourself, finding love, and so forth. One of the most interesting parts of the book for me is Charlie’s friendship with his English teacher, Mr. Anderson. Anderson recognizes that Charlie has a gift for reading and writing, and challenges him with books that he doesn’t ask the rest of the class to read. The books he reads are mostly classics. I had read several, but some that I have not. Mr. Anderson tries in several conversations to build Charlie up. Anderson sees that Charlie is an exceptional writer, which is why he gives Charlie the extra books to read.

Charlie is different from me in that the people he hangs around with are into parties and the social scene. I was not into all that. But I identify with Charlie’s extreme sentimentality. And, like Charlie, I also tend to listen to people and take everything in that goes on around me. I have a tendency to live in my thoughts and have to make myself aware of it in order to “particpate” more. And unrequited love is something I know very well. All of the girls I had a crush on as a teenager were out of reach for me from a dating standpoint. But I have always had lots of female friends.

One of the things I enjoyed most is the way the story is told. Charlie is writing letters to an anonymous reciever who he believes will appreciate his story. This allows for more of a glimpse inside the main character than if he were telling the events of the story as they happen. As I mentioned earlier, Charlie is an astute observer of the world around him.

I will close with two of my favorite quotes from the book:

Sam: “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve”.

Patrick: “You see things. You keep quiet about them. And you understand. You’re a wallflower”. (I think this one is from the movie).

The film is a very good adaptation of the book. I am glad that Chobsky decided to write and direct the film himself so it would be faithful to the book. If coming-of-age stories are something that you typically enjoy, I recommend the book and movie to you. For those of you who have read the book and/or seen the movie, what did you think of them?

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Bookworm

Tell us about the last book you read (Why did you choose it? Would you recommend it?). To go further, write a post based on its subject matter.

For this Daily Prompt idea I wanted to write about one of the last books I read, Why is the Human on Earth? by Mark Ballabon. A friend recently gifted this book to me after describing how much she has enjoyed it since she first read it several years ago. I am fortunate to have a copy, as I believe it is currently out of print. I love this book for many reasons. One reason is that to get the most out of it, you have to actively read it. In my opinion, the best way to read this book is very slowly- thinking about each contemplation after you finish it. Though, I confess, the temptation to hurry through it was great for me because I wanted to see where the author was going to go next.

The book is designed to appeal to different senses and creative preferences. Each chaper is called a contemplation. Each contemplation uses a combination of pictures, poetry, writing, and exercises to help the reader fully explore all the ideas offered by the author. As of this writing, the contemplation that resonates with me the most is the fourth. This contemplation is about contributing and adding to life, which is a very different message from what our culture tells us should be our focus. I have several friendships for which I am very thankful. These friends (and they know who they are as they read this) have given so much of their lives to me, and have made me a better person as a result.

This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read, and I recommend it to anyone who regularly examines his/her life. I would love to hear the thoughts of anyone who has read it.

The poem connected to contemplation four:

The light softened

the talk eased

the pain of trying to be something else retreated

We sat and looked at each other- softly, kindly

through the yes of no difference

and a longing for peace of mind

One woman, one man

many worlds to discover

many thoughts to feel

many hurts and wonders

to understand

And suddenly

the stillness shone

a ruby light

upon a jewel of knowing

that we could heal each other’s worry

and preying pain

simply through the gift

we gave each other

of listening

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2012 Books In Review

I didn’t read quite as many books this year as I have the past few years. The best new book I read this year was The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. This was Shaw’s debut novel, and I read it on the recommendation of my friend, Jane. It is a wonderfully well-written love story/fairy tale/myth hybrid. I highly recommend this book, and Shaw is an author I will look forward to reading in the future.

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2012 also gave me a book quest of sorts. I read somewhere about a book titled Winter In Maine by Gerard Donovan. The book was published, as best I can tell, sometime between 2008-2009. The only copy I have found is in German, which I unfortunately cannot read. If anyone finds this book in English, I would love to know. Also, if any of my friends reads German and would like this book, email me and we’ll work something out. Meanwhile, I will continue my search.

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Honorable mention goes to Strong Is Your Hold by Galway Kinnell. This is a book of poetry that will be the next new book I read, whether it is 2012 or ’13. (I am reading two books right now, and I am a slow reader). This book is special to me because it was given to me as a gift by my dear friend, Tosha. I love poetry, but do not tend to read much of it. One of my reading goals for 2013 is to read more poetry.

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So, these are a few books that stood out to me over the last twelve months. Have you read anything good lately? Or this year?

“The Water Is Wide”

This summer has been a busy one for travel for me. I usually have a couple of trips during the season, but have had more than usual lately. Typical summer trips for me include drives across Georgia and Mississippi to visit family. I had those, and two more trips that I thought I would take a few minutes to recap.

The most recent was an opportunity to see one of my favorite artists in concert. As an early birthday present, I got tickets to see Norah Jones in Atlanta. I had never seen her live before, so that was a fun experience that I hope to have again soon.

I also took a long weekend and drove to South Carolina with my parents and brother. We spent two days in Myrtle Beach and a day and a half in Charleston. Both towns were nice, but Charleston was especially enjoyable. I definitely want to visit it again soon as there is much more I want to see there that I didn’t have time for this trip. I may write more about that trip in the future. But for now I want to switch to a different topic.

On the subject of South Carolina, the last book I read is “The Water Is Wide”- a book about the short teaching experience of native son, Pat Conroy. He is, of course, known for his fiction. But after deciding to read a Conroy book along with my friend, Tosha, this one caught my eye.

I was interested in his experiences as I am a teacher by education. One of the things that resonated deeply with me is his concern for the students in his class. My only experience so far teaching is as a student-teacher and substitute teacher. But even in those situations I found myself longing to be a positive influence in their lives, and to do my best to spark a love of learning in them.

I certainly cannot give a wholehearted endorsement of Conroy’s teaching methods and his tone with his students. But some of you who work with students might find something interesting about the book. As always, I hope you all are doing well and I look forward to hearing from you. Keep cool!