My Year In Books- 2014

Written By: Dawn - Dec• 24•14

For me 2014 was the year of the book. I read 30 titles this year in part because so many of my favorite authors published new books and also because I opened myself up to discovery in a way I don’t normally do. As someone who works in a library, my greatest joy is placing a book in the hand of a reader. Here’s my unconventional review of books from my year.

Best Discovery Author/Series- Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden 

Dresden_Files

 

Friends have been telling me about Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series for years but until now, I never took a look. Butcher’s newest book released in early summer and he was all anyone could talk about at both Phoenix Comic-Con and San Diego Comic-Con.

Harry is a PI and a wizard in modern Chicago. The series is a mashup of the true detective genre with a dash of Harry Potter thrown in. But Chicago isn’t tame Hogwarts, it’s an adult city with adult-level supernatural problems.

Harry’s voice draws you in immediately but it’s Butcher’s world building that keeps me coming back. It’s nearly impossible to do something with vampires that hasn’t been done before, yet he does. This is a series that is deep, often dark and always surprising. Butcher even blends magic and faith in a way that gives both the reverence and respect they deserve.

Author Everyone Should Read Even If You Don’t Think You Like Science Fiction- John Scalzi

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Believe it or not, I don’t read a lot of SciFi, as TV is my preferred consumption method for the genre. I’d heard about Scalzi from my geek friends, but until I saw him in person at Phoenix Comic-Con two years ago, I wasn’t interested in his work. He impressed me so much at his author panel (hard to get the most out of those when you haven’t read anything by the author) I immediately bought his most famous work, Old Man’s War, which I devoured in two days.

His latest, Lock In, is set in the near future around a government sponsored industry for one population- those affected with the disorder Haden’s syndrome. As our own health care system is changing rapidly, Lock In is timely, tense and terrifying.

I also have to shout out to Old Man’s War, which I reread this year (and got my father-in-law to read). I think it may be one of the best books I’ve ever read as well as a standard classic in the genre.

Scalzi draws you in with character voice, and you’ll follow his characters across galaxies. Trust me.

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Books I Never Planned On Reading But Ended Up Loving- Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Me Before You1

 

You know the books I’m talking about because you see them everywhere- Target, Costco, perhaps even the grocery store. There’s buzz in magazines and even among your friends. Everyone, it seems, is talking about these books and you can’t figure out why because they sound boring, or depressing or uninteresting to you.

I’m here to say that sometimes best sellers are best sellers because they really are that good.

Me Before You is story of a quadriplegic and his female care giver. I doubt I could come up with a worse situation for a novel. But I reached a  point in early summer when the paperback’s dominance on shelf space was so impressive, even I could no longer ignore the book. So I read it.

And loved it.

I loved it so much, I went to the author’s book signing for her new book (which I also enjoyed).

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They’re making a movie for Me Before You and I look forward to seeing it. The book is not a feel-good in the traditional sense, can’t lie, but you will care about the characters and be glad you’re there.

Gone Girl is so huge right now I’m not even going to show a picture of it. If you haven’t noticed the book or the movie, you’ve been living in a cave.

Naturally I knew about the book when it came out. I wrote it off as a true crime tale and I never read those. I can’t even stand to watch Nancy Grace on TV. I had no intention of reading the book thank-you-very-much.

Last month The Better Half and I saw the movie because I couldn’t quite ignore all the attention it generated. Ten minutes into the film all I could think about was how fucked up all these people were and that I was dying to read the book so I could spend more time with them.

I’m kicking myself now for not taking the book seriously two years ago, but the movie to book experience hasn’t disappointed me at all. It’s well worth your time, even if you know the ending from the movie.

 

Thank You To My Favorite Authors For Great Books In 2014-

Since I write Women’s Fiction, it is my favorite genre. Some people still call it Chick Lit and in all honesty, that’s not a moniker I find offensive. The lone exception to the following list is Philippa Gregory, who writes amazing historical fiction. Please follow the links I’ve provide if you’re looking for a good read with relatable characters in all kinds of life situations.

Mary Kay Andrews (Southern and sassy, need I say more?)

Stacey Ballis (Foodie fiction with a lot of humor and recipes!)

Claire Cook (Both fiction and nonfiction this year!)

Jane Green (OMG- two books a year now! Next one drops on Dec. 30)

Philippa Gregory (Of The Other Boleyn Girl fame. Tudors! Drama!)

Beth Kendrick (Rom-Com at its best a la Lifetime TV movie.)

Jennifer Wiener (Always good and she champions women writers.)

 

Best Book of 2014 For Me- Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Crazy-Rich-Asians

 

Somehow I missed the buzz on this book when it released in 2013, but the paperback (shown above) kept catching my eye. The real hook- a reviewer  compared it to a Jane Austen novel. I am a sucker for anything that plays homage to my favorite author!

Crazy Rich Asians delivers exactly what is says- a sharp study into the super wealthy lifestyle of both old and new monied Asians from Singapore. Part Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, part Austen in its deep look into the social paradigms within the upper and “lesser” classes when they are thrown together in one ballroom, and part love story. It delighted me from start to finish.

E-book readers beware- the family trees are quite detailed here and as when I read Tolkien or Game of Thrones, I constantly referred to the genealogy maps to help track the who’s who. I’m not sure how those translate in e-formats.

Kwan has a sequel planned for June 2015 and I am counting the days!

 

Happy Reading for 2015 Friends!

 

 

National Novel Writing Month Recap

Written By: Dawn - Dec• 01•14

grant funding expert chris johnson grants to write books plays and poems

 

 

Well I did it!  Sort of.

I did participate in National Novel Writing Month (NoNoWriMo) this year but I didn’t win. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days and I managed to land at 18,216. Although I didn’t win, I still feel like a winner because I enjoyed myself. The absolute best part was being part of a very active and alive writing community. All the #hashtag support and shout outs made the lonely job of writing much less so and made me feel writerly again, something that I haven’t felt in a while.

The good feels don’t erase the fact that mistakes were made. Some were avoidable, like allowing myself days off, and others were simply a part of the learning curve I must face if I tackle this again next year. The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I’m not even sure I made it to 10,000 words and I caved after about ten days, hating the pressure. I still dislike the weight of the words on me daily, but I believe I could finish if I prepare better the next time.

My takeaway from this experience is such that I can’t be discouraged for not hitting the 50K mark.

-I discovered that I have a great new book and I want to keep working on it.

-I love my characters and really bonded with them through the fast pace demanded of NaNoWriMo in a way I might not have done if I was writing slow and steady and, frankly, more purposefully. I doubt I’ll use most of what I did write, but those words allowed me to get to know my characters.

-I am FOR SURE a plotter, not a pantser writer. I already knew this, and thought I had plotted enough material to get me through 50K, but I hadn’t and all that open space freaked me out more than it motivated me.

-Most importantly, I felt like a real writer again and I loved it. I stepped away from writing when I finished my coursework at Stanford in June, but I’m ready to back in.

-I have never been more happy to see the date December first!

A big congratulations to all who participated in NaNoWriMo this year and a big applause for those of you who finished.

Thank you all for supporting me this month, especially the folks who run NaNoWriMo. They made everyone one of us feel worthy and special regardless of word count and that my friends was priceless.

 

Horror You Doing?

Written By: Dawn - Oct• 22•14

Fall is my favorite season of the year. The weather cools (just slightly for us in Arizona), football season is in full swing and I get to decorate the house for Halloween, my favorite holiday.

My love for Halloween goes back to my childhood when I took choosing my costume very seriously. I honestly believed I was becoming whatever I chose. It’s no surprise that my love of dress up and costuming not only continues for me as an adult, but expands to the house.

This my third Halloween in the “new” house and I think I’ve hit my stride. The scale of this house is much larger than our previous place and has required me to go big. Hopefully some of the ideas here will inspire you. Enjoy my Martha Stewart-Nightmare Before Christmas mashup.

Jack Skellington greets you at the door. For about $35 in felt and tulle I managed to make this big space feel welcoming.

Jack Skellington greets you at the door. For about $35 in felt and tulle I managed to make this big space feel welcoming.

 

The front gate- my favorite area. The black and purple is taken from the Nightmare Before Christmas color pallet and it really make Halloween look more sophisticated.

The front gate- my favorite area. The black and purple is taken from the Nightmare Before Christmas color pallet and it really lends an elegance to Halloween.

 

Every time we walk in the courtyard Weasley thinks this crow is a real bird and he gets all excited.

Every time we walk in the courtyard Weasley thinks this crow is a real bird and he gets all excited.

 

This is right in the foyer. The skull glows in the dark of course.

This is right in the foyer. The skull glows in the dark of course.

 

This is one hold-over from the old house- the bench/mirror set. I love filling them with holiday knickknacks. This year, due to Lily's chewing I relocated my stuffed ghosts from the bench to a safer location.

This is one hold-over from the old house- the bench/mirror set. I love filling them with holiday knickknacks. This year, due to Lily’s chewing, I relocated my stuffed ghosts from the bench to a safer location.

 

The ghosts are much happier up high away from puppy teeth.

The ghosts are much happier up high and away from puppy teeth.

 

The dining room looks its best ever this year.

The dining room looks its best ever this year.

 

You probably can't see them, but there are worms coming out of the skull's brain.

You probably can’t see them, but there are worms coming out of the skull’s brain.

 

Last year I had this wreath on the front door, but it really isn't big enough for that. Looks amazing here.

Last year I had this wreath on the front door, but it really isn’t big enough for that. Looks amazing here.

 

We have these goofy wall cut-outs in the family room. Love how the black and purple makes the skulls stand out.

We have these goofy wall cut-outs in the family room. Love how the black and purple makes the skulls stand out.

 

For the last few years I've been grouping like with like. In another corner I have all the witches together.

For the last few years I’ve been grouping like with like. In another corner I have all the witches together.

 

I wish you all a safe and gruesome Halloween!

IPCS: Irritable Premium Channel Syndrome

Written By: Dawn - Aug• 10•14

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Let’s get this out of the way first- yes, I understand that any possible problem I have with HBO is a First World problem.

However that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.

The other night I ran into the same issue I frequently encounter after 7 p.m. in the family room- The Better Half has the TV remote in his hand. Whether he’s conscious or not, once it’s in his hand it’s staying there. And despite the fact that our cable service includes Basic Plus, the HBO package, the sports package and whatever add-on gives me access to BBC America, we find ourselves all-to-frequently with no suitable viewing material if there isn’t a Pawn Stars marathon on The History Channel.

So on this particular evening, The Better Half began his channel surfing and when he landed on HBO he tried to stop at This is 40.

This Is 40 is a film about marriage, family and growing older with a sense of humor. There’s a delightful scene about butt crack hair.

It makes me want to scream. Not because it isn’t enjoyable, but because This Is 40 (and RED 2) are HBO’s summer movies we cannot seem to escape from. The Better Half loves both films and will watch them over and over again, their familiarity comforting him like a soft blanket until he enviably drifts to sleep in his LA-Z-Boy recliner, the remote clutched death-grip style in his hands.

It’s occurred to me now that this pattern repeats itself every eight weeks or so when HBO adds a new big movies to its lineup. It goes like this-

1. One movie you saw in the theater, enjoyed and look forward to revisiting. (That would be RED 2)

2. One movie you missed not only in the theater, but also every time you stood in front of a Redbox. (That would be This Is 40)

3. You watch both movies by choice and enjoy them.

4. Then, for the next few weeks, despite statistical improbability, every time you turn on the TV the only HBO movies worth watching are those movies. AND FURTHERMORE, despite an even greater statistical improbability, you will drop in on them in the exact same place in the film EVERY SINGLE TIME. (Like the butt crack hair scene.)

It reminds me, in a weird and TMI way, of how women who live together can have their periods become synced so that they all have them at the same time. It’s like HBO senses your favorite films of the month and offers them up in a seemingly random way, but it’s really far more sinister than it appears.

And why would HBO torture its costumers like this?

Because they know we only subscribe for Game of Thrones and HBO GO access.

Deep breathe.

I accept the things I cannot change. I have the courage to change the things I can.

My attempts to hide the remote from The Better Half  have failed because the TV remote appears to be the only object in the house he can find on a regular basis without my assistance.

The only civilized recourse left is to call Dibs on the TV before The Better Half seizes the remote. For those of you in need of a refresher, here are the basic rules. Most of the Dibs rules I found online are in reference to women, but clearly the rules listed here (curtesy of Call Dibs Now) have universal applications.

Article 1: In order to call Dibs, the caller must pronounce the word “Dibs,” verifiable by at least one other person. The caller must also identify the Target in a reasonable manner (i.e. “I got Dibs on the butterface in the yellow g-string”). In my case I would say, “Absolfuckinglutely not Red 2 again.” 

Article 2: Dibs may only be called if the enactor (”the Caller”) has seen the Target in person. (photographs, digital images, etc. do not count). Dibs can only be called when the Caller is in line-of-sight (LOS) of the Target; Dibs cannot not be made if the Caller has already departed the Target’s location. I would add that being asleep on the couch does not in any way confirm a visual of the Target.

Article 3: The Call guarantees that no other individual, other than the Caller, may make any effort at hooking up with (seducing, courting, etc.) the Target for 30 days. I think this section is intended for anyone interested in watching HBO’s Real Sex. 

Article 4: Anyone disrespecting a legitimate Dibs call may be proclaimed a jackass by the community, and forfeits all honour. The Community may henceforth actively seek to destroy any sort of relationship the disrespecting citizen attempts with the Target, and may be attacked on sight. This is the no-whining clause. 

Look, we don’t have to be HBOwned! Take back your entrainment viewing power and control content as best you can!

For those of you frightened of confrontation or who haven’t figured out the channel guide yet, I suggest TV Switzerland-

Binge-watch The Office on Netflix and everyone is happy.

 

Geeks Gone Wild: Comic Con Recap

Written By: Dawn - Jul• 30•14

Given all the sadness and violence in the world right now, I was happy to escape to, literally, another universe last week when I attended San Diego Comic Con International (aka Geek Mecca).

Geeks and nerds are enjoying a renaissance period right now due in part to technology integrating everyone’s lives, the popularity of The Big Bang Theory and the latest British invasion, BBC’s iconic Dr. Who. It’s cool to be a geek right now. Normally this would make me happy, but being on trend isn’t exactly what Geekdom is about.

Geeks are used to being a minority in their passions and are not prone to attracting attention (we are not Kardashian fans for frak’s sake). What we love most is sharing our love-fascination-obessseion-frustration and deeper exploration of comics, books, film, art and TV within the SciFi/Fantasy/Paranormal genres (just to name the Holy Trinity). It’s not merely that lightsabers are awesome (they are, I own one) but how these genres tell stories we humans can relate to about life, loss, love and facing adversity. That the costumes, weapons and spaceships are badass is a bonus.

People like to poke fun of those of us who cosplay (dress in costumes within a particular franchise) as crazy freaks who need a life. Hmm… would any of those folks be daring enough to say that out loud in Oakland at a Raider game while standing in the middle of Raider Nation? And what about the girl who has had multiple  cosmetic surgeries in order to look exactly like Kim Kardashian? I dress up like a Jedi for a day and move on! (Okay, I move on to another costume but still…)

At the end of the day it’s all about celebrating stories and characters, which is something as a reader, writer and librarian (as well as a Star Wars fan) I can get behind.

This year’s Comic Con marked the most challenging year ever to be a fan in attendance. (In fact, someone surmised that sneaking into the Oscars would be easier than acquiring a pass to the con- not an exaggeration at all I’m afraid.) The event has become so big and so well publicized that the Muggles (my less-than-affectionate borrowed term for non-geeks) now turn out in droves. Several of the panels I attended this year addressed this issue. How do we bring in new fandom and still create a great fan experience?

I’m not sure you can. As the off-site programing continues to spread through San Diego’s Gaslamp District, it’s becoming increasing harder for anyone to do anything. Lines, crowds and congestion are consuming the convention and leading to all kinds of nasty talk about how the event has changed. (Thanks Hollywood!)

In my own five years of attending I’ve seen crowds grow, cosplay participation go down and more and more families from Kansas wandering around in downtown San Diego with frightened looks on their faces. When an event becomes “the place” to be for any and all, can it retain its uniqueness?

I can’t help but wonder if Comic Con is suffering from the same one-size-fits-all PC inclusion syndrome that we see with kids’ sports (trophy for being on the team), the demise of off-color humor (can’t offend anyone) and the never ending desire to feed positive self-esteem messages down everyone’s throat (That’s the best drawing ever son!).

And of course this leads to the next question. Is the geek community exclusive or inclusive?

Sounds like a trick question doesn’t it? But it’s the question we’re all asking ourselves while standing in line for 3 hours for an opportunity to sit on the throne chair from Game of Thrones. (Sadly I didn’t make it in time for that line.)

I guess I wouldn’t mind sharing the space with non or newer geeks if I felt like any of this mainstreaming improved people’s opinion of the geek community. I’m not sure it does though. It’s just too easy to overlook meeting new people or discovering a new comic book series when A-list celebrities are around and HBO will give out swag to all attendees in its panels.

So why go at all? Well, despite the craziness and crowds, there is nothing quite like Comic Con. There are experiences you can only have at SDCC and not at a smaller, regional con. (Like my hometown Phoenix Comic Con which is fabulous without all the fuss.)

Like this-

I really shouldn't be smiling when I'm this close to a White Walker.

I really shouldn’t be smiling when I’m this close to a White Walker.

 

and this-

The Headless Horseman can't tell that I'm smiling.

The Headless Horseman can’t tell that I’m smiling.

 

Defeating one of the Walking Dead zombies does call for celebration.

Defeating one of the Walking Dead zombies does call for celebration.

 

Running into Azog is no laughing matter!

Running into Azog is no laughing matter!

 

So what’s my takeaway? In my perfect world I’d only like people to come to Comic Con who want to experience it, not those who just want to “see what all the fuss is about.”

So if you can’t name at least one of the four houses at Hogwarts or you don’t have a character in a RPG or you have no idea what a Mandalorian is, you might want to stay home.

Even Godzilla knows there are limits to where he can go.

Notice You Must be as Tall as This Sign to Attack the City, The Far Side