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What I read: 2018

My annual review of the books I read in the previous year always turns up at least a couple of surprises for me. Here is the breakdown:

Total # of books read: 39

34 Fiction     5 Non-fiction

2 Young Adult    2 Childrens

22 by female authors and 17 by male authors

6 Mystery, 4 Science Fiction, 2 Romance, 5 Historical Fiction

6 by Asian American authors, 5 by African Americans, 7 by Latino Americans

I’m surprised by how many books on this list are by male authors, but I’m glad to see I’ve broadened my scope. I’m also surprised that I still read some genre fiction. I read many more mysteries and romances when I was younger, but lost some interest in those “formula” books over the years. Though I’ve never had an interest in science fiction, I have started reading more of it after viewing a DVD course on this genre last year. It’s a genre I plan to explore further in 2019. Happy Reading in 2019!

 

My Favorite 2018 Reads

Here is a list, in no particular order, of my five favorite reads (all novels) of 2018 (up to now, anyway–the year isn’t quite over yet):

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I could have read this book in 24 hours except I had to take time to eat and sleep. Unputdownable suspense thriller.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. I laughed out loud often, and I smiled at the bittersweet finale of this saga of a family living near the US/Mexico borderline.

Kindred by Octavia Butler. A powerful depiction of slavery and its continuing aftereffect on modern American society (even though the present day in the book is 1976, it could just as easily be today).

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera. A very good coming-of-age YA novel that focuses on the importance of appreciating the person you are and where you come from.

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez. Yes, it’s a children’s book, but I think most readers would enjoy this story about learning to be comfortable in your own skin.

Novels about and by Latinos

Here is a list of the novels I read this year about and by Latinos (I specifically refer to Americans of Latino descent):

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera

The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

Love Field by Virginia Alanis

Hmmm. I realize that this isn’t a long list, and I’m kind of disappointed by that. I seek out and make a point of reading fiction written by Latinos and about Latino characters, not only for my own personal interest but also to support the literature. I wish there were more books published in this area. Such fiction is becoming more abundant for children and young adults (in fact, I’m currently reading the wonderful children’s book, The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez), but those for adults are more difficult to find. That’s why I write these books, to help fill the void.

My latest novel, White Mexican, is now available as an e-book and soon will be in softcover. It’s about a young woman who struggles with her racial identity. It deals with such timely topics as DNA analysis, white privilege, colorism, and political correctness.

We need diverse books.

Such Character

I’ve met many interesting characters in the novels I’ve read this year:

ANGELA in The Wife by Alafair Burke. She is memorable because she is not what she seems. Truly an example of the unreliable narrator.

ANNA in The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. So neurotic, but…wait…what else is going on with this character? This is a richly developed portrait of a damaged individual.

DANA in Kindred by Octavia Butler. She is a fiercely determined woman who seeks to right what is wrong but against tremendous odds.

ROY in An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. He is an African American male who is unjustly accused and incarcerated. He is a survivor.

TOMAS in The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea. He is a philandering husband and a hedonist, but one who loves his daughter and risks his life to protect her.

MARGOT in The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera. Obstinate, reckless, and immature, Margot, a teen, learns the hard way that the choices we make can set us off on the wrong course.

LAURA in Love Field by Virginia Alanis. She is impressive, because unlike Margot, she tries to make the right choices, but when she doesn’t, she recognizes her mistake and alters her course. She is wise beyond her seventeen years.

These are the characters that have stood out the most in the novels I’ve read so far this year. I look forward to meeting more before the year is over.

Appreciating Sci-Fi Fiction

Last month, a friend became aware that I am a huge fan of science fiction movies and television series, but that I rarely read sci-fi novels. She offered to share with me a DVD course “How Great Science Fiction Works,” part of the Great Courses series. I’m only halfway through the course, but I already feel that my eyes have been opened to a genre that I’ve previously pretty much ignored.

Though I have read some sci-fi, I’ve often found it too action-oriented and weak in character development. But what I am realizing by watching this course is that sci-fi is also a fiction of ideas, often inspired by real world events. Often this genre will project into the future, basing plot, technological devices, and science on ideas that might only just be forming in the present day. For example, last year I read Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, which is set in a dystopian California of the future, devastated by an ecological crisis. This book was published in 1993. One cannot read a newspaper today without being aware of the effects of climate change. Butler imagines a world where environmental change leads to people fighting over the scarcest resource: water.

Over and over again, the Great Courses DVD gives examples of fiction that was ahead of its time. This has prodded me to pick up some science fiction and check it out, give it another chance. I just finished Butler’s Kindred, which is impressive (though I think it’s a stretch to call it sci-fi when the method of time travel is never explained). Next, I’m considering taking on Dune by Frank Herbert. Maybe. If not Dune, certainly I’ll try one of the other sci-fi classics recommended in this course.

For Book Club Discussions

At least once a year I like to blog about books I think would make for good book club discussions. After attending my book club meeting yesterday, I decided to address the topic again on this blog. In our group we discussed Jaime Ford’s Love and Other Consolation Prizes, a historical novel about a young half Chinese boy in early 1960s’ Seattle. All of us liked it. When all of us like a book, though, it seems that our discussion is not as lively or lengthy, and that was the case yesterday. We agreed that it’s a sweet story.

Here is a short list of books I’ve read this past year that I think might lead to lively discussions because possibly not all readers will have the same response to them:

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle is a classic children’s sci-fi/fantasy tale. Children’s books can be good choices for adult discussion groups. L’Engle raises important issues with universal themes: love conquers all, the power to overcome fear, the value of being a unique individual.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. This will certainly be made into a film because it’s an exciting and suspenseful thriller. I think it would spark discussion in a book club meeting because of some of its implausible plot points and its whodunit aspect.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea. Though this wonderful novel doesn’t have a big plot, or much of a plot at all, there is a lot here to spur discussion: family rivalries, dealing with illness and death, economic struggles, and more.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera, is a YA novel with a spunky, but impulsive, lead character. It raises issues of how we struggle to fit in (even as adults we deal with this) and learning to make good decisions.

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies is actually a collection of four distinct stories that focus on the challenges that Chinese Americans face in America with assimilation, bigotry, and acceptance. Sometimes it’s good to get discussion going with topics that might be new and fresh for readers.

Can’t Sleep ’til it’s Over

The temperature is expected to be in the 100s today, which is pretty remarkable, considering we live at the beach. We also have no AC. Later today, my husband and I will go to the movies to escape the hottest time of the day.

Last month, I blogged about how I enjoy light summer reads this time of year. When the weather isn’t quite so blazing, I’ll sit out on the deck to catch the sea breeze while I read. I did just that when I was reading Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney, an unputdownable thriller about two sisters who are obsessed with each other. The book was so addictive that I literally took it to bed with me that night, unable to stop reading until I’d finished it. It’s rare for me to do that with any book. It truly has to be unputdownable, as this one was.

The last time I lost sleep over a book was recently with The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn. I had to go further back to remember others. One was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which I read sometime in the 80s. Another was William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, which I read as a teen. More recently than that, I remember Tana French’s In the Woods kept me awake and reading. It was the first book of hers I’d ever read, and I have since become a huge fan. (Hmm…I see a theme here…horror, thrillers, mysteries…not necessarily the best genres to read in the middle of the night!) But like I said, I rarely lose sleep over a book. It’s more common for me to lose sleep to insomnia. When that happens,  I’ll often pick up a book to help put me to sleep.

Summer Reads

This morning I listened to War’s classic hit “Summer,” a slow-paced sound to accompany the lazy days of the season. I’m especially happy that summer is almost here. After a spring season of gray skies, I look forward to sunny mornings, warm afternoons, walks along the beach, and…summer reads. I got off to an early start by reading A.J. Finn’s fabulous thriller, The Woman in the Window, over the Memorial Day weekend.  It’s an entertaining page-turner, which took me only hours to read.

I’m in the habit of jotting down titles of books that are well-reviewed and peak my interest. I’ll refer to my list of titles when searching library catalogs online to see what’s available for checkout. However, if it’s a new summer title, chances are I’ll have to place a reserve, and if it’s a very popular title, my reserve might not get filled until summer is over! Instead, what I will do to get my hands on a good book is browse the shelves of my local library.

Here are other books I’ve read recently that would be good summer reads:

Two Girls Down (thriller) by Louisa Luna

The Wedding Date (romance) by Jasmine Guillory

The Wife and The Ex (mysteries) by Alafair Burke

Self-Publish?

Should I or should I not? It seems lately that I ask myself that question every day.  Should I  self-publish my third novel or move on to writing the next one?

Almost seven years ago I impulsively set forth to write my first novel.  I was suffering from cabin fever during a blazing hot summer when we were living in the desert. Long story short, within five months I had my first draft. I joined a writers’ club the following year and soon realized most members were self-publishing. I decided to do the same because it seemed like the right course of action for me. I have since published two books. Of course, neither book has made me famous or even made me much money. But those weren’t my goals either. My goals were to write and enjoy sharing my stories with readers, and I have accomplished both.

But something has changed for me. The third novel I’ve written is the best work I’ve done.  It covers a subject close to my heart and one that I would like to share with as wide an audience as possible. The problem is that I am not good at marketing my own books.  It takes the right personality and skills to proudly market one’s work without fear of rejection.  I’m too much of an introvert, do not enjoy marketing, and, as a result,  don’t sell my books in large numbers.

So, as I often do when faced with a difficult decision,  I weigh the pros and cons:

Pros:  Sharing my work with readers; enjoying the finished product in published format.

Cons:  It’s expensive, and I won’t necessarily earn back my investment. It’s time-consuming and takes away from writing time,  which is important to me.

What to do? I don’t know yet.  But I will decide soon.

My Childhood Book Memories

Old Bones the Wonder Horse by Mildred Mastin Pace was my favorite book during my childhood. I read it several times. I connected with its theme: what we might perceive as weak can surprise us with its strength. Another theme it stresses is the importance of remaining loyal to those who truly care about you. I’ve blogged about the difficult time that I had learning to read, because I was placed in a first-grade class where the students were older and more advanced. But once I learned, there was no stopping me. I read book after book after book. I especially remember Charlotte’s Web, the Little House on the Prairie series, and the “Eddie” books by Carolyn Haywood.

Recently I read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, for the first time, but didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have if I’d read it as a child. I sometimes think about the books I didn’t read in childhood (never once touched a Nancy Drew title) and wonder if I missed out on anything. By the time I was ten or eleven, I was so eager to read the books my older sister was reading that I did just that. There were no more children’s books for me. Years later, I worked for a while as a children’s librarian and discovered a trove of reading material to enjoy. In a way, I recaptured some of my childhood by enjoying new-to-me characters and titles, including picture books. It was a bright period for me.

I imagine that if I’d had the good fortune to have children of my own, I would have enjoyed introducing them to books, and reading to and with them. But I don’t think we can ever truly enjoy a book on our own the way we did when we read it as children. We adults are perhaps jaded and lack the same enthusiasm. I think sometimes about reading Old Bones again. But maybe I won’t. The experience won’t be the same as when I was a child, and I don’t want to replace those wonderful memories of a book that little me loved so much.