What Was Your Favorite Book of 2016?

favorite-books

It’s holiday time again, and I’m trying hard not to freak out about the “December to do list”. Husband tells me every year, “You always get everything done. Why do you get so worked up about this?” Ah, dear hubby, the devil is in the details, on multiple levels.  Do details threaten to unravel you, too, as December unfolds? I have a plan to help us approach the holiday season with a little more joy and a little less cranky.

 

The Word Nerd Plan

christmasThe first part of the plan errs on the “nerdy” side; it’s a spreadsheet. Yes, I actually have a spreadsheet that I use each year to help me remember who I need to buy gifts for and what I’d like to give them. It takes just a few minutes to whip up this gift guide, with a column for names, a column for ideas and a small column for “Yes, did that!”. If you have a lot of loved ones you like to remember at the holidays, but struggle to actually remember all them, make a spreadsheet and fill in the blanks. It will give you a huge sense of accomplishment.

The second part of the plan gets into the “wordy”. I love giving books as gifts. They are easy to mail, reusable, instructive, and entertaining. Besides, buying books supports writers and the publishing industry, and we all want to keep books around, right?  The problem: finding proper books for each person on your spreadsheet. Here’s where Diary of a Word Nerd can help.

Today I’m starting the Favorite Books Giveaway for 2016. Here’s how it works. Tell me your favorite book from 2016 and the reason you liked it.  I’ll add your book to a list of recommendations and your name to a drawing of potential winners. In the end, we’ll have a collection of fabulous book titles to use as a shopping guide, and one lucky reader will have a new book to read.

Favorite Books of 2016: Giveaway details

  • You may enter the giveaway by commenting on my blog, my Facebook profile, my Twitter feed, or my Instagram Favorite Book post by December 12, 2016.
  • Your comment must include your favorite book from 2016 and a short explanation of why you recommend it.  All genres welcome.
  • The book doesn’t have to be published in 2016, just read in 2016.
  • I will announce the winner on Monday, December 12, 2016 with the full list of favorites. That will give you plenty of shopping time. 😉
  • The giveaway winner must choose a book and provide mailing address.

The first suggestion

Big Little LiesI love Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty and have given it as a gift several times this year with enthusiastic responses. My book club enjoyed it as well. Moriarty combines wit, sensitivity, and suspense in this novel about an unexpected death at a primary school fundraiser. Using multiple points of view, Moriarty cleverly dispenses clues to her mystery while also exploring sensitive issues like domestic abuse and assault. There’s a foreboding sense of doom that hangs over the novel and keeps the pages turning, but Big Little Lies balances the dark themes with hilarious and accurate commentary on domestic life and the challenges of parenting and marriage.

I listened to the audio book of Big Little Lies, which is performed perfectly by Caroline Lee. However, audio books don’t gift well, so for the holidays, I recommend a hard copy.

Now it’s your turn. What was your favorite book of 2016 and why. Please share this post to social media so that we can get a lot of responses and a giant list of ideas.

Thanks for sharing!

Julia

 

 

 

 

 

Another Reason to Join Goodreads: E-book Deals

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It’s the week of Thanksgiving. You’ve got pies to bake and clothes to wash, and you’re so tired of running around that you can’t wait to sit down and read a great book – either on the road to the in-laws or while the family is sitting around after turkey time to discuss the outcome of the election. Unfortunately, you’ve don’t have time to go to the bookstore or the library to grab an entertaining novel you can lose yourself in.

This is when Goodreads Deals come in handy.

goodreads-deals

About a month ago, I started getting emails about “Goodreads Daily Deals.” Every day, Goodreads sends me snippets about five or so books that are selling for a super deal- usually three bucks or less. Just yesterday, my email included a deal for Be Frank with Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson, pitched as “perfect for fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. (This just happens to be one of my favorite books.) There were also two YA novels that looked appealing.

Initially, I thought this would be a great way to get Christmas presents for my friends and family. Unfortunately, the deals are only for e-books, in various formats including Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Google Play. Now I understand that it’s a great way to get e-books really cheap.

  • Here’s how it works:
    If you haven’t already, join Goodreads! It’s free, and there are plenty of great reasons to do so, like keeping track of books you read, saving books you want to read, finding reviews of books you’re going to read. See my Goodreads Guide for Word Nerds and Goodreads: How to Add Books for details.
  • Get the technology to read e-books. You can use a Kindle app, a Kindle, a Nook, etc.
  • It's easy to pick your preferences for notifications.
    It’s easy to pick your preferences for notifications.

    Set up your preferences in Goodreads Deals. You can choose to get notifications about books on your “Want to Read” shelf and authors that you follow.  You can also select genres you like the Deals settings. For example, I have young adult, fiction, best sellers, and mystery and thrillers picked in my settings.

  • Watch for the emails.

I researched Be Frank with Me. It was released earlier in 2016, and overall it gets favorable reviews and sounds like a story I’d enjoy. I bought it through the Kindle store and sent it to my Kindle Cloud so I can access it on my iPhone (with the Kindle app), on hubby’s Kindle, or on the iPad. Since I picked the Kindle format, I was charged through my Amazon account.

Speaking of hubby, he hasn’t read a book in a while, so I’ll be on the watch for a good thriller to grab his attention and reset his healthy bedtime habit.  Hah!  I can still use it to get books for other people.

Goodreads promises that more genres will be included soon, and I hope that includes Kid Lit. My kids are usually the one begging me for books last minute. This could come in really handy, especially over the holiday break.

The only downside to this program? The daily email. I get overwhelmed easily and already delete a fair amount of spam every day. However, it looks like it’s easy to unsubscribe from Goodreads Deals – just click the link at the bottom of the email.

 

Have you tried Goodreads Deals? What did you think? Where do you go to get cheap e-books?

Thanks for sharing!

Julia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medicine for My Soul

Writing Stephen King

 

For this month’s installment of the Who I Am project, Dana and Bev asked participants to write about Medicine for the Soul. This prompt couldn’t come at a better time.

I’ve just wrapped up a full season of fall sports: three kids running cross country and three kids playing soccer. Note, I only have four children; you figure out the math. I’ve also been fully enmeshed in coaching cross country – a thing I love and that definitely fills my soul – but all that time committed to snack requests and Milesplit means I’ve put off important, but less enjoyable, things, like balancing checkbooks and making appointments. Now I face a lengthy and intimidating to-do list that doesn’t even include Christmas tasks. Kinda makes me want to go for a run… and not come back.

Thank you, Dana and Bev, for forcing me to contemplate the things that fill my spirit and bring me joy just when I need them the most. Here are a few of them:

Being Creative  It’s taken me until middle age to appreciate that my soul requires creative activity. Not just “likes” it, but requires it. In the past, that meant drawing with pencils and pastels or painting with acrylics. Now, with less time for cleaning brushes, my creativity takes the form of writing and photography. Stringing words together brings great pleasure, perhaps because I’m focusing on one thing for a while, but also because it feeds my creative need. When I make time to exercise and write in the morning, my whole day goes better.  Really, I need to “take” creative time every day, like a vitamin.

running shoesExercise  Whatever form it is, I always feel better after, even if I didn’t want to go to the pool on a cold winter morning and swim laps (Getting wet in January? Yuck!) Endorphins, feeling strong, burning away unneeded calories- these physical benefits of exercise combine into a soothing elixir for my weary soul.

 

Service work  When I’m spinning down a spiral of fatigue and irritation, nothing snaps me out of my self-pity better than service work. Reading with kids at the elementary school, delivering food, walking with a troubled friend who needs someone to listen – all these things expand my perspective and shift my focus from my own worries to the needs of someone else. Note: this does not include the everyday service work of cooking, cleaning and laundry that most mothers perform. I need something outside of the daily minutia to medicate my spirit.

Wearable inspiration
Wearable inspiration

Mantra Bands  I’m not big on jewelry, but these simple bracelets remind me to put my heart in the right place – on the positive. There are tons of messages to choose from at Mantraband.com; I have the three pictured above.  When I’m irritable or letting anxiety have too much sway in my day, the jangle of these silver bands prompts me to look down, read the words, and remember who I want to be.

happier-podcastHappier with Gretchen Rubin  My friend Amy recommended this podcast, and what a great thing.  Gretchen and her sister discuss little ways to make each day a little happier.  Because of these ladies, I’m currently working on my “Personal Ten Commandments” which include

  • Assume positive intent
  • Connect before I correct
  • You get more of what you notice – so attend to the good stuff

Another great podcast for soul care: Michael Hyatt’s This is Your Life. Michael shares productivity tips and encourages his listeners to be their best self.

Laughter and Friends  Cheesy and unoriginal, but good friends and a great belly laugh do much to calm my soul.  One of the greatest gifts my husband brings to our marriage is the ability to make me smile in the midst of tense situations.  And that emoji induced giggle I get via texts from a dear friend?  Better than Valium, people.

The trick with all these “treatments”? Just like real life medications, they won’t work unless I take them. I’ve got to give myself permission to indulge, for the health of my soul.  And so do you, my friend.

What do you do to take care of your soul? Do you do those things often enough?

I’m giving you permission today to treat your spirit and find your joy.

If you’d like to join the Who I Am project, visit Dana’s blog for details:

Who I Am 2

Julia

 

 

 

 

 

 

NaNoWriMo Tip: Character Personality Types

Don't forget to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for the WWW meme!

It’s November, or NaNoWriMo for writerly types. What is NaNoWriMo? Although it sounds like a string of baby babble, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a writing challenge, inspiring people to write daily with the goal of a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month.

I’m participating for the first time this year, and while prepping for the challenge, I brainstormed about my characters using KM Weiland’s Crafting Unforgettable Characters e-book. (If you’re a writer, check out Weiland’s multiple writing resources, including her website and podcast. Extremely helpful! ) I had to chose a “personality type” for each of my characters:

  • Choleric
  • Sanguine
  • Phlegmatic
  • Melancholy

Since I didn’t know what these words meant, I had a hard time applying them to my characters. You too? Let’s break these words down for Wondrous Words Wednesday.  (If you like learning about words, visit Kathy’s Blog today!)

1) choleric, from Middle English (in the sense ‘bilious’): from Old French cholerique, via Latin from Greek kholerikos, from kholera; made angry easily
2) sanguine, from Latin sanguis, blood: confident and hopeful
3) phlegmatic, from Greek flam, inflammation, phlegein to burn: not easily upset, excited, or angered
4) melancholy, from Greek melan + chole, bile: a sad, pensive mood or feeling

I’ve got experience in health care, so I knew sanguine meant bloody, but I wasn’t sure how we got from bloody to confident. Turns out, in ancient Greece, Hippocrates believed that a person’s temperament was influenced by his bodily fluids. He proposed that our bodily fluids contain humors, and when those humors are balanced, people experience good health. When they are unbalanced, disease and disability occur. This is called the Four Humors theory of temperament.

yellow bile -> choleric person
blood -> sanguine person
phlegm -> phlegmatic person
black bile -> melancholic person

So, according to Hippocrates, excess black bile led to a melancholic disposition, and so on. Although Western and Islamic cultures adopted the Four Humors theory, it was eventually disproved. However, it still influences psychological tests and theory today, including the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator. For more detailed information about the Four Humors, as well as links to personality tests, visit Lonerwolf.com. Weiland recommends dabbing in a bit of psychology to give characters more well-rounded development.

Word Nerd Workout

Try to think of a character from a book or movie to fit one of the personality types. Or, better yet, tell us what your personality type is!

Photo Credit: johnantoni via Flickr CC-BY-SA
Photo Credit: johnantoni via Flickr CC-BY-SA

I’ll illustrate each type for you:

  • Choleric – Strong willed, dominant, has a quick temper: Miss Piggy (The Muppets)
  • Sanguine – Sociable, charismatic, stimulation seeking; can be impulsive and frivolous: Pippen (The Lord of the Rings)
  • Phlegmatic- Loyal, trustworthy, stable “nice guys”: Ron Weasley (Harry Potter)
  • Melancholy – Thoughtful, introspective, and reserved: Halt the Ranger (Ranger’s Apprentice)

My son says I’m “choleric, all the way, worse than Miss Piggy”.  Thanks, kid.

It was hard to classify myself, or my characters, as any one of these, a common struggle I have with personality tests. But they are kinda fun.  How about you?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me, and if you’re doing NaNoWriMo too, good luck!

Julia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Believe and Achieve: How 5 Girls Grabbed Their Goal

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Yesterday, I watched determination turn into victory.

It’s been a long time since our little high school in our small town sent a full girls team to the state cross country meet.  Our community is all about football – have you seen the show Friday Night Lights?  That’s us.  So, cross country doesn’t get much attention or many participants.  But we’re a gritty group, running in the summer heat and the freezing wind, through mud puddles and up gravel hills.  The football players mock us but we don’t care, because we know they probably couldn’t do what we do.

Six months ago, when we started training in the June humidity, the girls talked about state, but it seemed like a lofty goal.  We had five girls – just enough to make a team.  Our best runner had a two year old PR of 22 minutes and hadn’t seen times that fast in a while. The other girls were running 24 minutes and slower.  When I looked up the results of last year’s regional meet, the girl who placed 20th had a time of 22:29. I wanted state just as much as the girls did, but the stats looked troubling.

I didn’t know what was in their hearts.

Let me tell you about these girls:

  • One is a senior and who keeps her teammates in line during warm ups and asks for hill repeats. She shows up to every. single. practice.  She’s been to state and told me at the beginning of the season that it was her goal to get back.
  • One plays in the marching band and can’t make it to many team practices.  All summer, she got up at 6 am to run by herself.  Once school started, she ran on her own, after early morning classes at her church, a full day of school, and three hours of band practice.
  • One works long hours on Friday nights before our Saturday morning meets.  She has pushed harder than I’ve ever seen before this season, vowing not to walk during practices.  She has a mean finish line sprint.
  • One had never broken 29 minutes, but when I asked her to run up hills at practice, she always did.  She, too, has worked hard this season, building up her endurance and speed.
  • One fell 30 feet out of a tree two years ago and has been battling pain and restrictions ever since. She can only run a few times a week, at a limited pace and for limited time, but she is a hard core competitor who hates to lose and won’t let pain stop her.
morning-run
Five girls got up early for a brisk morning run.

They worked hard all season, and as championship meets approached, I reviewed the stats and told them they had a decent shot of making it to regions and state, but they would have to do it as a team.  The chances of any one making it on her own were seriously slim.

They huddled.  Schemed.  Asked what else they could do get better.  Cut sugar and carbs and fat out of their diets.  Angrily ate carrots while their siblings ate chicken nuggets. Posted inspirational quotes and pictures on social media.  Built each other up.

Last week, at the conference meet, they all PR’d (that means ran a personal record), some by more than two minutes.  (That’s huge, people.)  They finished second in their conference and carried a trophy home that night, riding a high of pure joy, knowing they’d advanced as a team to the regional meet.

Yesterday was the final hurdle.  The team had to finish in the top six to qualify for state. The race was tough.  We had targets from other teams to pass.  A pack of opponents was ahead of one of our girls.  Coach told her to catch up.  “No problem,” she said.  Another one fell twice; pushed one time, tripped the other.  “It’s okay,” she said after the race, cleaning the dirt off her knee “I pulled through!”

We had to wait for over an hour for the results.  They had done so much, but would it be enough to advance to state?  They wanted to know; I couldn’t tell them.

regions
Waiting for results

Finally, the meet director announced the results.  Sixth place.  Our girls.  Screams erupted.  They huddled again.  Don’t ask me what was said after that; I couldn’t hear a thing.

They are going to state.

If there is a goal you’re striving for, and it seems so hard to reach, remember this group of girls who pulled together with hard work and determination.

believe

Thanks ladies.

Do you have an inspiring story you can share?  

Julia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Reviews for Fans of YA and Non-fiction

story-of-a-girl

If you want to become a better writer, you’re supposed to read a lot, specifically in the genre that fits your writing fancy.  So, over the past few months I’ve consumed a fair amount of YA Contemporary.  Here’s a micro review of each book, plus a nod to the non-fiction piece chosen by my book club (non-fiction is NOT one of my writing or reading fancies, but this one was pretty good, so I’ll share…)

Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr

***National Book Award Finalist

When she was 13 years old, Deanna Lambert spent a lot of time in the back seat of her brother’s friend’s car — until the night her father found her.  Three years later, stories about Deanna “the slut” still haunt her daily life.  Her father won’t look at her, her brother likes to keep her close and “out of trouble”, and her mother just wants to solve everything with ice cream.  Deanna takes a job at a local pizza joint before she realizes that her brother’s friend, and her former backseat companion, works there.  But being near Tommy again forces Deanna to face her past and rewrite her story.

I liked this novel the best of the three Sara Zarr books I read because it touches on a topic faced by nearly every teen.  The characters and family dynamics are real, flawed, and heartbreaking.  Deanna aches for love and affection, to feel “chosen”, which leads her to make poor choices, with dramatic ramifications.  This is a great book for teens, especially girls, as it tactfully and honestly explores how sex can impact your life.

I listened to the audio book of Story of a Girl, which is performed by Sara Zarr.  Her reading was somewhat flat, and I think I would have preferred to read the novel myself.

sweetheartsSweethearts by Sara Zarr

As kids, Jennifer and Cameron were social outcasts who found comfort in each other until Cameron mysteriously disappeared.  Years later, Jennifer has transformed herself into “Jenna”- skinny, popular, and dating.  When Cameron comes back into the picture, Jennifer must revisit her past and the bittersweet memories that link her to Cameron.

I read this book the fastest, as Zarr does a nice job of keeping up the pace and intrigue by switching back and forth between past and present narratives.  Sweethearts does a great job of exploring the difference between who people think we are and who we feel like inside.  Jennifer’s relationship with Cameron is complicated and ultimately unfinished, leaving me feeling unsatisfied at the end.  Zarr in general seems big on ambiguous endings, which can be frustrating, but is also very realistic.

How To Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Jill MacSweeney is grieving the loss of her loving father and trying to figure out who she is, now that he’s gone.  Mandy Kalinowki has never known love and wants to find it for her baby, as well as for herself.  Jill’s mother brings these two extremely different girls together when she agrees to adopt Mandy’s yet unborn child, no strings attached.

The set up for this book is unusual, and slightly far-fetched, but the emotions explored – wanting love, losing love, learning to let go – are realistic.  All of the main characters need saving, and it’s interesting to watch how each of them finds happiness.  This ending was the least ambiguous and the closest thing to happy for me.

Along for the Ride, Sarah Dessen

along-for-the-ridePerfect daughter Auden hasn’t slept at night for years, ever since her parents started fighting.  She blames herself for their divorce.  Needing a break from her overbearing mother, she decides to spend the summer living with her father, his wife, and their new baby at their beach house.  But even with a change of environment, she can’t shake her insomnia, and that’s how she meets Eli, a fellow loner who shows her around the beach town in the wee hours of the night.  Eli helps Auden experience the carefree teenage life she never had, and Auden helps Eli release the guilt he feels over a friend’s death.

This is the ultimate beach book, best read in the sand.  (Sadly, it’s October and that’s a slim possibility for most of us.)  I could relate to Auden’s need to unwind and expand her comfort zone, and I loved the beach setting.  Use this one to escape the winter blahs or put it on your TBR for next June.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

boys-in-the-boatThis non-fiction book tells the story of the nine University of Washington crew members who beat the odds to qualify for, and win, the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.

At the beginning, Boys in the Boat includes lots of extraneous details about the crew members and their families, and I struggled a bit.  As it progresses, the book narrows its focus to one amazing crew member, Joe Rantz, and his triumphant rise over poverty and neglect.  It also includes snippets about the rise of Hitler in Germany and his impact upon the 1936 Olympics.  This is a feel good story about hard work and perseverance, and ultimately, I liked it.  I listened to the audio book, which is performed with enthusiasm by Edward Herrman.

I never choose to read non-fiction on my own, so it’s a good thing my book club prompts me to do it at least once a year.

Have you read any good YA or non-fiction lately?  Share a bit and help us choose our next book!

Thanks for adding to the discussion!

Julia