Reading Habits

Suspense author and fabulous blogger Stacy Green tagged me in a “Get to Know You” game. That makes me think of The King and I, and now my brain is off on a tangent of hearing Deborah Kerr sing “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you . . .”

Never mind.

Anyway, games come with RULES: 1. You must post the rules. 2. Answer the questions and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged. 3. Tag eleven people and link to them. 4. Let them know you’ve tagged them.

Rather than invent new questions and tag others, I decided I really just want to answer Stacy’s questions because they focus on fiction. Since I like to talk about fiction on Deep-Fried Fridays, here’s a little about me and my reading habits:

If you could live in a fictional world, where would that be?

First choice, Narnia. I definitely want to meet Aslan . . . and ride a horse and wield a sword and talk to animals.

Next choice (and quite the opposite), a James Bond novel. I actually didn’t like the book Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, but I am convinced that I missed my calling as a Bond girl. What do you think my name should be?

Do you read in noisy or quiet places?

I prefer quiet, but I can read with background buzz. If the voices or music are too close, however, I find myself easily distracted. I definitely hate that feeling of reading a sentence four times over because other stimuli are throwing my concentration off. That said, my favorite place to read is outdoors, where the background noise is an ocean tide thundering or birds and cicadas chirping.

What was the first book you ever read?

The ones I most recall reading were the Nancy Drew and The Little House on the Prairie series. Before these, though, my favorite story as a child was Gerald McBoing-Boing by Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss).

I also read Bluebeard from a fairy tale collection over and over. The story both intrigued and unnerved me.

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If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be? No, not one! Asking a voracious reader that question is like saying, “Which finger do you most want to keep?” “Um, all of them!”

Okay, okay — back against the wall, tortured if I don’t decide, and not counting a standard answer like “the Bible” — I’ll pick Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd  C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (My gut is wrenching and my face is twitching. Only one book?)

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Favorite author?

I cannot pick another JUST ONE! I already did that! Here are a few authors I’ve read several books from: C.S. Lewis, Charles Martin, Rhys Bowen, Agatha Christie, Charlaine Harris (but not her Sookie Stackhouse series), Leo Tolstoy, the Bronte family (can’t I count them all together?), Rosemary Clement-Moore, Elizabeth Peters, Lois Lowry, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Is that enough? I bet I could think of more.

Do reviews influence your choice of reads?

Yes, a little. If something is widely adored or panned, I pay attention. Even then, however, I try to find out why people had such an intense reaction. A recommendation from a friend who shares my taste trumps an official book review, though.

Fiction or Non-fiction?

Like eating vegetables, I read non-fiction because it’s good for me. Like devouring chocolate, I read fiction because it’s yummy to me.

Have you ever met your favorite author?

Nope. Oddly enough, I don’t have a strong desire to meet authors or celebrities. It would be nice, but as long as they keep writing great books . . .

Audio books or Paperbacks?

Paperbacks. I’m also learning to like ebooks. I prefer, however, to do non-fiction through audio. I can listen well to an audio book while cleaning my house or walking around the neighborhood.

Classic or Modern Novels?

Classic — but not because the writing was any better before. It’s mainly because if something’s great, it’s still around fifty years from now. If something stinks, it usually falls by the wayside. That said, I read more modern novels because I have so many friends with books out and it sharpens my understanding of what I should be writing now.

Book Groups or Solitary Reading?

I have been in a Book Club for several years. However, the six of us would be friends regardless; we meet six times a year, every other month; and we read 1-2 books for each meeting. The rest of the time, I’m a solitary reader.

The book we have tapped for our next meeting is a non-fiction bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

So I said that I’m not making up eleven questions, but I will make up ONE. I’ll pose it, answer it, and then ask you to respond to it in the comments.

If you could invite three dead authors to a dinner for four, whom would you invite? I think I’d have a rip-roaring great time with Agatha Christie, Mark Twain, and Leo Tolstoy. If one of them turned down the invite, Jane Austen would be next on my list.

Thanks to Stacy Green for this great exercise. If you haven’t popped over there, check out her blog. Her Thriller Thursday posts are especially intriguing.

So who would you invite to dinner? Also feel free to answer any of the above questions about your own reading habits!

Friday Fiction: What Are Y’all Reading?

I recently combed through our Borders store a second time looking for going-out-of-business bargains and walked away with another stack of books. This time, most of the books were for my family; however, I did add to my To Be Read pile – which currently resembles Jack’s beanstalk to the clouds.

In the queue are several non-fiction books (primarily on writing and language) and fiction selections as well.

For today’s Friday Fiction, I’m sharing what’s coming up on my list and asking what y’all have been reading.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This book was recommended by mystery writer Jayne Ormerod. I had seen this title several times and it piqued my curiosity, but not enough until Jayne gave it a 5 out of 5 rating.

From the back cover: “January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.”

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards. Two good friends have recommended this book, and one finally loaned me her copy (which I’ve now had for months!). I’ve probably put off reading it because it sounds like a tearjerker, and this mama isn’t sure she wants to go down that road. But the plot does sound compelling and with the recommendations . . .

From the back cover: “This stunning novel begins on a winter night in 1964, when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy, but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down syndrome. For motives he tells himself are good, he makes a split-second decision that will haunt all their lives forever. He asks his nurse, Caroline, to take the baby away to an institution. Instead, she disappears into another city to raise the child as her own.”

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. My mother-in-law passed this one off to me. She has read quite a few historical novels and is good at spotting an excellent one.

From the book description: “In 1937 Shanghai—the Paris of Asia—twenty-one-year-old Pearl Chin and her younger sister, May, are having the time of their lives. Both are beautiful, modern, and carefree—until the day their father tells them that he has gambled away their wealth. To repay his debts, he must sell the girls as wives to suitors who have traveled from Los Angeles to find Chinese brides. As Japanese bombs fall on their beloved city, Pearl and May set out on the journey of a lifetime, from the Chinese countryside to the shores of America. Though inseparable best friends, the sisters also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries. Along the way they make terrible sacrifices, face impossible choices, and confront a devastating, life-changing secret, but through it all the two heroines of this astounding new novel hold fast to who they are—Shanghai girls.”

The Cat, the Lady and the Liar by Leann Sweeney. Mystery author Leann Sweeney lives in my town! But although that’s how I heard about her, I’m not reading her books for that reason. She’s a great storyteller. This one is the third in her Cats in Trouble series. I have also read her Yellow Rose Mysteries, which were a lot of fun. If you like cozy mysteries, pick up one of Leann’s novels and give it a shot.

From the back cover: “When cat quilter Jillian Hart tracks down the owner of a gorgeous stray cat, the trail leads her to none other than fabulously wealthy, undeniably quirky Ritaestelle Longworth. The gossips in town are questioning Ritaestelle’s sanity, and the high-society grande dame isn’t helping matters with her wild accusations that someone is drugging her to keep her away from her beloved cat. Before Jillian can get to the bottom of Ritaestelle’s charges, a body turns up in the lake behind her house – and her cat Chablis discovers Ritaestelle standing nearby. Can Jillian’s three wise cats aid her in solving a mystery with roots that are decades old?”

Rainwater by Sandra Brown. This bestselling author was the keynote speaker at the DFW Writers’ Conference held last spring by the DFW Writers’ Workshop. As part of her presentation, she described her two latest books, and this title sounded fascinating. I have only read one other novel from her– a romance from some years ago. I’m curious to see how her writing has evolved and to simply delve into the story.

From Publishers Weekly: “Bestseller Brown brings Depression-era Texas to vivid life in this poignant short novel. At the recommendation of Dr. Murdy Kincaid, Ella Barron, a hardworking woman whose husband deserted her, accepts David Rainwater, a relative of the doctor’s, as a lodger at the boarding house she runs in the small town of Gilead, Texas. As the local community contends with a government program to shoot livestock and the opposition of racist Conrad Ellis, a greedy meatpacker, to poor families butchering the meat, Ella grows closer to David. Meanwhile, David becomes a special guardian angel to Solly, Ella’s nine-year-old autistic son. Dr. Kincaid has gently suggested Ella put Solly in an institution, but she refuses to do so. Brown skillfully charts the progress of Ella and David’s quiet romance, while a contemporary frame adds a neat twist to this heartwarming but never cloying historical.”

Which of these titles have you read or want to read? So what’s up next on your reading list? Do you have recommendations for must-reads?

Friday Fiction: The Club Picks

Like many of you, I’ve been in a book club for several years now. Our book club meets every other month, reads one or two selections, and discusses the book(s) for a little while and our personal lives for a long while. With six members, we each host once a year, often providing a dinner that connects with the book theme. For instance, a couple of books about Jews during the Holocaust got us to eat a delicious kosher meal at a nearby restaurant and two books set in Africa had us making suya meat on a stick and fried plantains.

From time to time, I am asked what books our club recommends. Well, we often disagree. Reviews can be mixed on various books. For instance, no matter how much anyone else in my book club liked it, I hated Life of Pi by Yann Martel. (See my post on that one.) And not everyone found The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath as compelling as I did. But we have unanimously concurred on a few selections, and I readily recommend the following:

Bel Canto by Ann Padgett – A famous opera singer, a Japanese tycoon, and a group of diplomats gather for a party; soon after, a group of eighteen terrorists invade the home. A hostage crisis ensues in which author Padgett develops characters on both sides of the negotiations and brings together people who would otherwise never bond.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – Told from the point of view of Death (yes, the Grim Reaper), this book chronicles the life of a young girl whose adoptive German parents struggle to put food on the table, to hide a Jewish man, and to keep clear of the Nazis taking over their country. Meanwhile, the young girl learns the value of books to help them through this horrible time in history.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon – This is a murder mystery told from the perspective of an autistic 15 year old. Haddon does a wonderful job of dropping the reader into the mind of an autistic boy and showing the challenges he faces in making sense of his world, his family, and the false accusation that he has killed a neighbor’s dog.

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg – From the author who brought us Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, this is another tale of an unorthodox young lady in the South – this one being 11-year-old Daisy Fay Harper. Flagg takes us through Daisy Fay’s hilarious journey in the 1950’s toward a pageant title in her home state.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – This novel takes place in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960’s, where “the help” are African-American women hired to be housekeepers for privileged Caucasian women.  Two women – one black, one white – are challenged to rise above their circumstances and shed light on the racially unbalanced and complicated relationships between society women and their hired help.

Hill Country: A Novel by Janice Woods Windle – Author Windle tells the story of her incredible grandmother, Laura Hoge Woods (1870-1966), who lived in the Hill Country of Texas. A formidable woman in any century, Laura survives an Indian attack, raises seven children, and interacts with prominent political figures of the day.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Politically tumultuous Afghanistan is the setting for the story of a wealthy businessman, his son, and his servant’s son. A single tragic event shapes the lives of those involved, as the Taliban is taking over the country. The servant’s son struggles to deal with the fallout of his country’s turmoil and his personal shortcomings.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – There may not be any women left in America who haven’t read this one, but it’s a love story extraordinaire. Henry and Clare are not star-crossed lovers, but time-crossed lovers. With Henry’s “Chrono Displacement Disorder,” they meet for brief periods of time and try to experience a lifetime of love in their fleeting moments.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks – Somehow, reading a book about a 17th century plague doesn’t sound intriguing, but we all liked this one. This historical fiction novel describes an English town in Derbyshire struck by the plague and the choices families make as loved ones become sick and the healthy must decide whether to risk themselves to tend to the dying. Relationships are changed as the calamity unfolds.

Are you in a book club?  If so, what books has your club read that you unanimously enjoyed?  What must-read recommendations would you make to the rest of us?

Friday Fiction: What to Read Next?

My Next Reads Stack

It’s a toss-up for whether my Netflix queue or my Next Reads stack is larger.  My husband recently said, “I could have three lifetimes, and never get through all the books I want to read.”  I agree:  There simply isn’t enough time to devour all the books I want to read.

Since I can’t get to everything, what causes a book to land in my three-foot tall stack of Next Reads?  For me, here are some criteria:

Book Club Choice.  I’ve been in a book club for years, and if we choose a book, I try VERY hard to read it.  Every now and then, I have been caught at a meeting having no idea why Charlise chose to leave Steve for the plumber and become a missionary in remote Africa, since I don’t even know who Charlise is.  But, for the most part, Book Club books get moved to the top of the stack.  There is, after all, some accountability for whether I’ve read the selection.

Reading with My Kids.  I have participated in programs with my kids for which I needed to read middle grade or young adult books at the same time they did.  This is also accountability because they know if I’ve read the book, and once I read it, I know if they’ve read the book!  I have truly read a lot of fabulous novels this way.

Next in the Series.  If I’ve started a series that I like but haven’t made it through or the author recently published another one (keep writing, Rhys Bowen), the next one goes in the stack.  I definitely read novels sequentially and want to know the whole story of characters I fall in love with.

Recommendation.  If a friend with similar taste highly recommends a book (or loans it to me), I usually get to reading.  This word-of-mouth advertising is what authors rely on!  I’m far more likely to grab a book suggested by a close Facebook friend than a New York Times book review.

Authors I Like.  If I loved your last book, I’ll probably like the next one.  It’s not always true.  For instance, I love Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series, but I honestly don’t enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse novels.  Still, it’s as good a bet as any.  And just like we order the same menu item in our favorite restaurant over and over, people like the certainty of reading an author they are almost certain they will like.

Classics.  I admit to feeling internal pressure to read the greatest literature of all time.  I have made it through works by Tolstoy, Austen, Hardy, Dickens, Steinbeck, Brontës 1, 2, and 3, and many more.  However, I still haven’t read Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Victor Hugo, and others.  Somehow, I feel that I must make it through a good number of the classics before I leave this world.

Authors with a Personal Connection.  There is a mystery author in my hometown, and I happily picked up her books (Leann Sweeney, author of Yellow Rose and Cat in Trouble mysteries).  I have also become acquainted through conferences, groups, and social media with other authors who make it far more likely that I will read their tomes (e.g., We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb and Making Waves by Tawna Fenske).  I could mention quite a few that fall into this group.  And they keep publishing more!  Which will keep me on my toes.

Catches My Eye.  This is the least likely way to get on my list, but it is often what authors are hoping for.  Sometimes, I do browse bookstores or libraries and find an interesting title, an eye-catching cover, and a book jacket description that makes me want to read the contents.  Once again, I have come upon some wonderful reads this way (e.g., A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson).  However, it is a crap shoot.

So what are your methods for deciding which books to read?  How big is your Next Reads stack?  Do you want your book to make it into my stack?  Let me know the title!

Friday Fiction: Firecracker Duds

So what’s that one book that everyone raved about, that you spent $20 on the hardcover to purchase or twelve weeks on the library waiting list to receive, that you opened with excited anticipation… only to finish and wonder what all of the hullabaloo was about? 

For me, it was Life of Pi.  When I turned the last page and set the book down, I thought, “I want my two hours back.”  Or maybe I expended three or four.  I don’t know.  I’ve tried to block it out like a humiliating high school memory or the knowledge that your parents had sex.

But I do know that I was not interested in the story, and I kept reading because I thought, “Surely it must get better because everyone is talking about how great this novel is!”  To my mind, not only did it not get better, it got worse with one of the lamest endings I’ve ever read.

Let me be clear.  The author writes well.  The book was well-crafted.  But I am among those who need a character in a book that I can relate to or root for.  No such person existed in The Life of Pi for me.

Also, showing that it is my opinion alone, everyone else in my book club liked the book.  That did not, however, stop me from ranting about it at our meeting.  (By the way, thanks for listening, book club friends, or at least pretending to listen while you played with your dessert or made a shopping list in your mind).

I recently picked up another strongly suggested read from an acquaintance and after a hundred pages tossed it back into the library book drop without once wondering what the characters might do next in the 600-page novel.  I guess my taste just differed from my friend’s.  It happens sometimes.

How many “amazing” books were what my kids would term an Epic Fail for you?  What titles were rampantly recommended that turned out to be time-suckers or firecracker-duds?

Or have you recommended a book that you absolutely adored to someone who reported back that they didn’t like it at all?  Why do you think that happened?

Round of Words in 80 Days Update:  wrote 2,632 of 5,000 words this week; edited 81 of 186 pages in my middle-grade novel; trying out a new blogging goal of 3 times a week – Monday Mumblings, Wednesday Words, Friday Fiction (We’ll see how that goes!)