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


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.


Coming-of-age novels, as I’ve mentioned before, have always been among my favorites in fiction. I don’t know why that is, but I can make some reasonable guesses. Because I especially enjoy character-driven stories, it makes sense that I would like coming-of-age fiction. Also, there is a personal reason. You see, I was a late bloomer. It took me a while to become the mature adult that I am now. I like to think that I’ve learned from my mistakes, and that it’s never too late to continue learning and becoming a stronger, better human being.

Here is a list of coming-of-age novels I’ve recently read and recommend:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See. Set in China and Southern California, this story focuses on a young woman, raised in a Chinese hill tribe, who becomes self-sufficient and learns to adapt to city life and western culture.

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera. Margot is a fifteen-year-old with a stubborn streak. She makes some wrong decisions and learns life lessons the hard way.

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall. The teenage daughter of Barbadian immigrants faces a difficult search for her niche in American society.

–I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez. Soon-to-be filmed. It should make a terrific movie. Julia, the protagonist, has a lot going on in her life, and there’s a reason for her moody ways that goes beyond the average teen’s issues. I especially appreciate the author’s depiction of Mexican-American culture.

Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez. A young woman slowly realizes her bisexuality while on a hilarious cross-country motorcycle trek. R-rated for sexual language and visuals (the author’s art work).

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Another soon-to-be film that should be terrific. An African-American teen’s life is disrupted when her friend is shot by police. She also has to come to terms with the double life she lives in her neighborhood and in the largely white school she attends.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. The young Chinese American girl in Kwok’s novel has to decide between what she wants and what is expected of her.


What I Read in 2017

2017 was a very good year for reading. I did not pressure myself to read a book a week as I did last year. I took my time in choosing the titles I read and as a result didn’t waste my energy with titles that fell short. If I didn’t like a book after reading the first 50 pages, I set it aside and started another. The one exception to that rule was The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang. I continued with it despite my disappointment with the first 50 pages, because it had received some excellent reviews. But I didn’t like the book at all.

Altogether, I read 41 books last year. Here is a breakdown by genre and by author:

–Three were horror stories.

–Four were mysteries.

–One was a western, one was a romance, and one was a fantasy.

–Four were young adult.

–Four were non-fiction.

–Eleven were written by men.

–Five were written by Black authors.

–Four were written by Asian or Asian-American authors.

–Ten were written by Latinos.

Nothing about this breakdown surprises me. However, I notice that over the years my reading habits have changed. I once read many more mysteries and romances than I do now. I read more literary fiction now. What hasn’t changed? I still don’t read many western, sci-fi, or fantasy novels. I’ve never cared much for those genres. I definitely read more novels by Latinos than I ever did before, because there are more being published (though still not enough).

So far this year I have read three novels, and I look forward to many more good reads in 2018.


My Favorite 2017 Reads

Here is my top-ten list of favorite reads of 2017, in order of preference, with #1 being the best. Most of the comments are excerpted from reviews I posted on the Goodreads site. Next month, I will blog in more detail about my 2017 reads. It was a very good year.

1.  Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. I highly recommend this title to anyone who is seeking to understand this demographic that voted overwhelmingly for Trump.

2.  All They Will Call You by Tim Z. Hernandez. The author brings a true, heartbreaking event (a California plane crash that killed the crew and the farmworkers on board who were headed for deportation) to life through a fictionalized account with beautiful writing and gritty details.

3.  Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. The challenges of a young Chinese immigrant attempting to assimilate into American society are portrayed in a touching manner. This is not categorized as a YA novel, but it should be.

4.  The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This novel gave me a better understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement and the day-to-day realities of those who live in poor black neighborhoods.

5.  In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes. This is a creepy, atmospheric novel that takes the reader into the mind of a serial killer. I was drawn to its 1940s L.A. setting.

6.  American Chica by Marie Arana. An autobiography that puts into beautifully written words what many a bicultural child can feel about living in two worlds.

7.  I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika Sanchez. I especially enjoyed the depiction of Mexican-American culture and family in this YA book, and I was able to relate to so much of it.

8.  Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These two very wise men talk about the path to joy and how we can all achieve it with practice and determination. I listened to the audio book, which I believe made it a more pleasant experience.

9.  Isabel’s Hand-Me-Down Dreams by Isabel Lopez. This is an honest, humorous, and inspirational memoir that tells of the author’s life first in Puerto Rico, then in New York City, and, finally, in Florida, from childhood to middle-age.

10.  The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street Susan Jane Gilman. The main character’s enterprising nature exemplifies all that is good about the immigrant spirit. But she is a complex person who gives in to her worst instincts. She is a fictional character to remember.