Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - My Year in Reading

I read 214 books in 2014. Some of those were written for children or teens, or are novellas or short stories, and there was one graphic novel.
At the start of 214, I had 426 books on my “To Read” list. Now that number is 579. If a vampire offers to “turn” me, I might consider an immortal life if only to have enough time for all the books I want to read. I kept my re-read book numbers down again, and most of the re-reads were in preparation for new books (or a TV show) coming out in 2014.  
I already have three books in progress that I did not finish in 2014. 

By the Numbers:

Total Books Read: 214 (Eight of those are short stories/novellas and two are anthologies)
Books I read again for the second (or third or more time):  12
Young Adult/Juvenile Fiction: 28
Romance:   96 (+7 YA)
Mystery:   26 (+4 YA)
Nonfiction:   10
Memoirs: 8 (technically, this falls under NF, but this is more than normal.)
Paranormal, Horror, Sci/Fi, Fantasy: 18 (+8 YA)
Series books:  142
Novellas/Short stories: 10

The authors I read the most in 2014 include Anne Gracie (10), Loretta Chase (9), Diana Gabaldon, (7, but five were re-reads), Tessa Dare (7), Kate Noble (6), John Sandford (5).

Here are my favorite books from 2014, by category.

 Young Adult

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
A young woman with a strict and distant mother falls in love with the boy next door and his family and has to make a touch choice when tragedy strikes.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The first book is written from the point of view of a young woman after a car accident, as her spirit lingers in the hospital as doctors and nurses try to save her life. It is now a movie too. As soon as my son heads back to college, I plan a movie marathon with this and “The Fault in Our Stars.”


Letters by Kurt Vonnegut
An intimate look at the life of Kurt Vonnegut through his correspondence.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Funny. I love her TV show, “The Mindy Project,” and this book just solidifies my desire to have Mindy in my circle of friends.

How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
I want to be besties with Caitlin. LOVED this book.


The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths, the first in her Ruth Galloway mystery series. Ruth is an archaeologist called in when old bones are discovered. Set in Great Britain, and Ruth has a unique voice.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley, the latest in his Flavia de Luce series.
Flavia is a young British girl with a passion for solving mysteries and a genius in chemistry. Find the first book in the series, and catch up with this story that brings Flavia a mystery very close to home. 


Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover by Sarah MacLean
The conclusion of a four part series set a gambling den in London. The main character first appeared in MacLean’s “Love by Numbers” trilogy. I don’t want to say too much about it, as it would give away the amazing secret MacLean kept from readers about the character’s identity.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
I read this on the recommendation of Sarah MacLean in the FB group she created paying homage to old school romance novels. It’s a great reading group. I loved this book. Then I began tearing through the back catalog of Chase books.

With This Ring by Celeste Bradley, book three in her Worthington Family series
Bradley does such an amazing job of building characters you wish you could meet and turning them loose in stories with great pacing and dialogue that make them nearly impossible to put down.


 Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch, the first in his Peter Grant series. 
I read it on the recommendation of one of my favorite romance authors, Celeste Bradley. If you like an author, follow them on Facebook, Twitter or their web page and keep your eye out for book recommendations. If you like what they write, you will like what they read.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson 
I really like Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. This book is quite different. The best description I can come up with for it is that it reminds me of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where the main character keeps dying and being reborn, with small changes or choices taking her life in a new direction.

Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
The latest in her Outlander series, which is now a TV show that makes me miss having cable. Most of my re-reads this year were to prep to watch the first episode (Starz let viewers watch it for free.)

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf
This book weighs down your soul, the story of two little girls who disappear and what happens to their families as a frantic search for them ensues.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
Set in NYC around the time of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. Brilliant and weird and riveting.

Other suggested reading

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway,  a debut author with a story about a time traveler.
Five Days Left by Julia Timmer Lawson

If you like romance, try Tessa Dare or Kate Noble. Also, if you like an author, try following them on Facebook, Twitter or bookmark their website and be on the lookout for reading recommendations. If you like what they like, you'll love what they read. 

To take a look at all the books I read in 2014, click here:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

True love stories never end

In loving memory of
Ethel J. Vizanko
May 28, 1923 - August 12, 2014

As delivered September 20, 2014, at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in Ironwood, Mich. 

True love stories never end.

And the love story of Ethel and Tom may never have happened if Grandma stuck to her career ambitions. She once told me she planned to be a spinster language teacher.

With cats.

“But then I met Tom,” she said.

And this church would be fairly empty if she had not.

Sarah and I were blessed to live so close to The Farm, living an hour or two away until I was nine, and then moving back and living just over the Front Hill in the new house. We graduated from the same high school and attended the same community college as Grandma and Grandpa did. I got to serve as a library aide at the desk where they met. And I treasure that connection.

One of my earliest memories of the farm is holding Grandma’s hand as she led Sarah and me down the stairs into the basement of the barn, looking for Grandpa.

In her last few years, she liked to point out her crooked finger, but I marvel at all those hands accomplished.
The letters written, the pie and pasty crusts rolled out, the babies held and changed and rocked, the raspberries gathered, the weeds pulled, holding something to read and the hugs offered.

Grandma was remarkable in so many ways, but I think the most remarkable thing about her was not going back to school, earning college degrees and pursuing a career after having so many children.

The most magical thing about Grandma was her unconditional love. I don’t know if she had favorites, but if you were with her, she made you feel like it was you.

Though if you brought her the first newspaper of the day or a sweet treat, it may have been you for that moment.

The way she loved serves as an example to us all.

The love she and Grandpa shared, and her devotion in taking care of him until the end, her love for her children and the generations that followed, the way she made her home so welcoming to family and friends.

I admire how much she loved words, how much she enjoyed reading and writing. She voraciously inhaled books, magazines and newspapers, and valued staying informed. She wrote the best letters or notes, and shared so many stories of her life.

I used to wonder why the females in our family have a tendency to overshare, but after Grandma shared some of the stories about her “firsts” with Grandpa…. I no longer wonder where we get it from.

And we can trace the family lead foot to her. I often wish I had asked her to teach me Finnish, if only so I could know what she was saying when she expressed her driving frustrations with a few choice phrases.

She will be so very missed, but we can carry on her legacy by following her example of how to live and love.

Take the time to write a letter or note to family or friends.

Wear a hat. Maybe even a red tam.

Read more. Pick up a newspaper from time to time.

Stay active. Grandma rarely missed her aerobics class, and I believe it helped keep her with us for 91 years.

Volunteer. Grandma showed her loving heart and generous spirit by volunteering her time at the hospital and more.

Indulge in a Cappuccino Heath Blizzard or a turtle sundae. Grandma and Kathy did not believe in passing a Dairy Queen.

Drink more coffee.

Travel. Drive across the country, or to Alaska. Go overseas. Take the train.

Make an apple pie or cook a meal for those you love.

Pass on her stories. Share your own.

Love unconditionally.

Helen Keller said, “All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Grandma may be “Gone to Glory” but she will never really leave us.

We mourn the loss of such a loving and amazing woman, but I take comfort in the belief that true love stories never end.

I like to believe that for Ethel and Tom, the next chapter in their love story started on a Tuesday afternoon in August with Grandma striding up the front sidewalk of The Farm.

Her flowers are blooming.

The raspberries are ripe.

The house gleams in a fresh coat of white paint with yellow trim, and the red roof shines in the sun.

And Grandpa appears in the front porch door to ask, “Ethel, where have you been?”

God bless you, Grandma. We love you.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

My 2013 reading wrap-up

I read 217 books in 2013. About 12 of those include short stories and novellas, and 21 of the books fall into the young adult/juvenile fiction category, which I tend to whip through pretty fast. What stands out for me is that only seven books were re-reads. Last year, that number topped 29. I deliberately reduced my re-reads because there are so many books I want to read, that I tried to make reading new books my priority.

At the start of 2013, I had 224 books on my “To Read” list. Now that number is 426.
I already have three books in progress that I did not finish in 2013.

By the Numbers:
Total Books Read: 217
Books I read again for the second (or third or more time): 7
Romance:  71
Mystery:  36
Young Adult/Juvenile Fiction: 21
Nonfiction:  9
Paranormal, Horror, Sci/Fi, Fantasy:  23
Series books: 109

Here are my favorite books from 2013, in no particular order.

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
Written for the young adult market, this book tells the story of a girl with terminal cancer who meets a boy with cancer at a support group. This tale of love and loss had me laughing and crying. Sometimes at the same time. A movie based on the book comes out this year. Read the book first.

“The Round House” by Louise Erdrich
Set on a North Dakota reservation,  this book reveals the aftermath of a brutal attack on a woman, and how her son Joe tries to solve the mystery of what happened to her and why. The statistics about sexual assault against Native American woman shared at the end of the book haunt and horrify me.

“Murder in Chelsea” by Victoria Thompson
Thompson wrote romance novels in the 1980s and 1990s, but switched genres to historical mysteries and found her voice. This series, based around a midwife working in New York City in the early 1900s, is amazing, and the latest book in the series finally gave readers some character/relationship development that is long overdue.

“Maisie Dobbs” by Jacqueline Winspear
I will cheat a bit here, and include all 10 books in the series. I discovered the Maisie Dobbs series early this spring and inhaled it before the 10th book came out. Set in Great Britain between World War I and World War II, it follows a young woman whose employer discovered her in the library in the middle of the night and helped her get an education. She works as a personal inquiry agent (private investigator) and her cases often deal with World War I veterans.

“7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” by Jen Hatmaker
I travelled to a woman’s retreat in February with a dear friend for the chance to meet Jen Hatmaker and listen to her speak. Amazing experience and an incredible book. I really want to try the 7 challenge this year.

“Silent in the Grave” by Deanna Raybourn
Another mystery series, set in Victorian England, begin with the murder of Lady Julia Grey’s husband. So far the series includes 5 books and two short stories, one of which I need to get my eyes on.

“The Perfect Mile” by Neal Bascomb
A great read about Roger Bannister and the race to break the four-minute mile. 

If you like to read romance, you cannot go wrong with books by Mary Balogh, Celeste Bradley, Lynn Kurland, Julia Quinn or Eloisa James. I tried a few new authors this year and enjoyed books by Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan and Kate Noble. Most of these authors are on Facebook, and I love following them and may still "squee" a bit when I get to interact with them. A work highlight from the year was my phone interview with Celeste Bradley to learn more about her writing and her latest book.

I shall try to rediscover my love of writing, as I fell into a major writing slump in 2013 that I have not been able to shake. My list of books to read includes several writing guides/advice books to try to help me find my writing mojo again.
I set my goal for 2014 at 180 books (just under one book every two days.) This year will bring several changes, including my son graduating from high school and heading off to college. I hope to enjoy spending time with him (as much as he’ll allow) and make time for fitness.

To take a look at all the books I read in 2013,  click here.