Best Book of February 2018–The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel

Best Book of February 2018--The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesFebruary was a difficult month. I don’t want to be a whiner, but there nearly was no best book of the month for February because the challenges we faced as a family made it difficult for me to maintain the attention span necessary for reading long works.

However, in the last days of February, I attended a writers’ conference (the OCW Winter One-day Conference) and bought a book by an attending author.

Return to Mount Rainier

A few years ago my husband and I camped for a week on Mt. Rainier. It was a wonderful trip. The park was so beautiful, interesting, and inspiring. Therefore, when I picked up the novel, The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel  by Karen Barnett, I knew I had to buy it.

A day later, I began to read it, and I finished it on the last day of February.

The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel

The Road to Paradise: A Vintage National Park Novel, by Karen Barnett, tells the story of a young woman who goes to work as a naturalist in the fledgling national park and a story of the struggles our national parks have faced since their founding.

Margie Lane, a senator’s daughter and amateur naturalist, fleeing an unwanted suitor, gets a job at Mount Rainier National Park where she hopes to bury herself in the beauty of God’s creation. She falls in love with the park (and is even inspired by it to write poetry, as I was). Unfortunately, her presence brings unhealthy attention and even danger to this wildly beautiful place, and Margie, accompanied by the handsome chief ranger, must fight to protect its delicate habitats and grand swathes of wilderness from the ravages of over-development.

I so enjoyed reading this book and revisiting all the wonderful places I remembered.

“A Vintage National Park Novel”

I love the idea of exploring the history of our national parks through story, so I checked the “Books by Karen Barnett” page at the front of the novel hoping to find more. No luck.

However, in preparing for this post, I checked out Barnett’s website. On her “Books” page, I discovered Where the Fire Falls: A Vintage National Parks Novel, set in Yosemite, coming out in June of this year! During all my teen years and early adulthood, my family met for an annual reunion in Yosemite National Park. You can bet I’m looking forward to reading this new national park novel and, hopefully (hint-hint, Ms. Barnett), many more.

Your Turn

Have you enjoyed any books set in a national park? If so, please use the comment space below to share the author and title.

Did you read an awesome books in February? Again, please use the space below to share.

Let’s inspire and encourage each other!

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National Tell a Fairy Tale Day: Fairy Tales and Me

Yesterday was National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. I know. It probably would have been nice to know that yesterday. However, fairy tales are something that can be appreciated any day, right?

Here are a couple of cool quotes about fairy tales:

“If I am honest, I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales, and I like them best of all.”  Audrey Hepburn

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”  Albert Einstein

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us dragons exist, but that they tell us dragons can be beaten.”  G.K. Chesterton

Fairy Tales and Me

Like Ms. Hepburn, I have always loved fairy tales. Here’s some fun facts about me and the fairy tales in my life.

  • National Tell a Fairy Tale Day: Fairy Tales and Me; Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesMy favorite book of fairy tales: The Princesses: Sixteen Stories Selected by Sally Patrick Johnson
  • One of my most shameful confessions: I checked The Princesses out of my school library and never returned it. Yes, that means I’m a book thief.
  • My favorite fairy tale: “The Light Princess,” by George MacDonald
  • My favorite fairy tale movie: Disney’s animated version of “Sleeping Beauty.” I know they got a bit creative with the storyline, however, due to this film, I fell in love with Gothic architecture and art before the age of 5!
  • My first publishing credit: “The Frost King’s Dowry,” a retelling of a Russian folk tale, published in Cricket magazine
  • My most recent publishing credit: a poem, “Dishwater Dreaming,” a poem inspired by the tale “Donkeyskin,” published in Enchanted Conversation Magazine, June 28, 2018
  • My favorite fairy tale blog: fairytalemagazine.com

Your Turn

What are some of your fairy tale favorites or the fairy tale milestones in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comment box. Let’s inspire and encourage each other!

December/January Reading

As it is for most people, the holiday season is a busy time, and so I never blogged my December reading. Now that it is February, here is my December and January reading list and some thoughts.

December

The long descent into the darkness of winter is always a challenge for my spirit. Therefore, the first book I completed reading in December is, for me, the literary equivalent of comfort food: A City of Bells, by Elizabeth Goudge. I returned to it, because Goudge books, despite all their characters trials, always sparkle with hope and light. A City of Bells is the story of a wounded veteran who finds his calling, an adopted young girl finds her inner strength, and a mysterious stranger who is sought and loved by the people his life had touched. I love this book, and it carried me right into December.

Another carryover from November was Donald Maass‘ The Emotional Craft of Fiction. Maass’ premise is that it is emotion that hooks readers of novels, and in The Emotional Craft of Fiction  he provides models and explanations of the many ways an author can incorporate emotion in their own fiction.

Next I read Stephanie Barron‘s Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas. As with Barron’s other Jane Austen mysteries, this novel was entertaining and provided a good puzzle.

I followed Barron with Robin Jones Gunn’s Finding Father Christmas. I loved it. This is the story of a young woman who, growing up with an eccentric single mom, never knew her father. Now her mother is dead, and she decides to search her father out. Her mission takes her to a small village in England, where slowly she unravels her personal history while striving to protect the new friends she has made.

Equally enjoyable was the sequel, Engaging Father Christmas.

JanuaryInk & Bone: December and January Reading, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate Lives

Because I was incredibly sick most of the month of January, I did not engage in a lot of novel-reading (I read mostly short things, like blog posts). However, I did start and finish one novel, Rachel Caine’s YA fantasy, Ink and Bone. This book has a fascinating premise: The great library of ancient Alexandria was never destroyed, and in the near future world in which the novel takes place, information is widely available, but strictly controlled, by the all-powerful, world-ranging library. Jess, the son of a very successful book smuggler, is sent to be educated at the great library, where the young man discovers both a wonderful cohort of friends and the sinister truth about this library system that controls all the knowledge of the world. I very much enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading its sequels.

I Love My New Planner!

I Love My New Planner, Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesOne of the side benefits of becoming a teacher was developing the practice of using a plan book. I remember feeling like there were so many tasks, big and little to remember, that I had to write them down in order to be prepared for each day of teaching and learning.

A few years ago, feeling like I just wasn’t accomplishing anything on a daily basis, I remembered my lesson plan book and decided to use the same approach in my home life. I loved it! It worked! I’d record what needed to get done each day and check each item off as I did it. At the end of the day, I could see that I actually did get quite a bit done, even if it was two dozen tiny chores. I was hooked.

The Great Planner Hunt

Up until this year, I have always used a spiral bound planner. Each December I would look all over town for the perfect planner and agonize over how pretty or colorful it was or was not.

This year, tired of the last-minute search, I started looking in the fall. There were very limited numbers of spiral bound binders available, and none were very pretty. However, there were oodles of those removable/re-arangable-page-planners. They were colorful. They were pretty. But…they had flimsy laminated covers. I like the solid feel of a hardcover spiral planner.

So I looked and I looked and I looked. I could not find a planner I liked in a style I liked. Finally in December, I surrendered. I bought one of those new-fangled, laminated cover planners.

It was pretty, but I did not even look at it again until January.

Now, I love it.

It was originally an 18 month planner, starting in the summer of 2017. So, I was able to pull out the July – December pages and insert them, and their dividers, in the back of the planner as resources.

As a planner, this new planner is as fully functional as my old style planner.

But those re-arangeable bonus dividers and pages? I am in love.

My Bonus Sections

I have four sections in the back of my planner–Routines, Lists, Cooking, How-Tos. Using techniques picked up reading about bullet journaling (such as establishing a table of contents) here’s how I’ve filled my pages so far.

Routines

The routines section contains notes for how I want to set up my planner, a template for teaching days, a template for weekends, a template for vacation days and holidays, and a schedule for medications and supplements.

For example, on days I do not work, here is how I like to start out:

  • Read my daily section of the Bible
  • Pray
  • Read some of the Blogs I follow
  • Clean up the kitchen
  • Get dressed and put away clothes
  • Check my phone
  • Clear my email inbox

Lists

I like making lists. The act of doing so helps me to remember things that are important to me. I have lots of lists:

  • Favorite exercises and stretches
  • Things I want to make (both practical and crafts)
  • Things I want to learn (both just for fun or for personal/professional development)
  • Personal pleasures: things to do for fun and relaxation
  • Asthma home improvement to-do list
  • Ideas for Family dinners (my kids are grown and out on their own, and I want to come up with some fun ways for us to get together regularly)
  • Chore lists: including an order of rotation so that over time, everything routine gets covered.
  • Writing project lists and priorities
  • Blog ideas and to-do lists
  • Home improvement projects
  • Once-in-a-blue-moon chores
  • Projects, big or small, that once I do them, do not need to be repeated
  • What I am learning about managing my asthma

Cooking

  • Recipes my husband likes
  • Baking (snacks and desserts) my husband likes
  • Side dishes my husband likes
  • Mixes to make

I focus on my husband here because I already and always know what I like. When it’s my turn in the kitchen, I want to be as considerate of my husband as he is of me.

How Tos

  • How to embed a pin in a blog post
  • How to embed a Facebook post in a blog post

As I learn new things I expect this section to grow.

And More…

I have two more dividers left and multiple unused pages. The possibilities are open before me. I love it!

Your Turn

Do you use a planner or some other form of organizer? Use the comment space below to tell us about it. Let’s inspire and encourage each other!

Best Book of November: Spider’s Voice by Gloria Skurzynski

Spider's Voice by Gloria Skurzynski: Best Book of November review on Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesThis November I have enjoyed a lot of great reading, from the fantasy of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, to the mystery of Stephanie Barron’s Jane and the Canterbury Tale, to history in a delightful discovery, Spider’s Voice by Gloria Skurzynski.

The Delightful Discovery

I first encountered Spider’s Voice in our city’s one, independent bookstore, the beloved, and now no longer in business, Jackson’s Books.

As a parent and as a children’s writer (I was writing and publishing folktales with Cricket Magazine at the time), I loved their vast children’s selection and shopped faithfully when I had money to spend on gifts, or I just wanted to see what was new. (They also had a fabulous fantasy section. That is my other favorite genre.)

I saw Spider’s Voice when it first came out–a very lean time in my life; noted that it included the  historical Abelard and Heloise in its cast and therefore was medieval historical fiction, a favorite; and denied myself the purchase because, as I said, financially things were pretty rough for me and my family at the time.

But the book haunted me. So often after it had disappeared from the shelves, I wished that I had bought it, or at least jotted down its title and author, like I usually do, so I could buy it later. And I guess, somehow, in the more than a decade that passed I did find it and buy it, because when it came time to read a novel from my children’s hardback shelves, moving forward from the letter Z, there it was.

Awake with insomnia, I pulled it from the shelf and sat down to read, not even glancing at the blurb. Then, as I got a few pages in, I began to realize, This is it! This is the book I wished I’d bought!

I have no memory of finding it, buying it, or shelving it, but I read it through, beginning to end, in one sitting, and did not go back to bed until after 3:00 A.M.

Spider’s Voice: Worth the Wait

Spider’s Voice is the story of a young shepherd boy, named Aran, born mute to a brutal father, who is sent with his older brother to Paris to sell the year’s thread. When his brother drinks up their earnings and is robbed of the rest, he sells to a peddler in grotesques so he need not return homw empty-handed. Aran is rescued by the famous scholar Abelard, because the great teacher in Paris’ famed University is in need of a servant who cannot be interrogated.

Through his adventures and travails in service to the famous lovers, Abelard and Eloise, Aran comes of age, and develops a wisdom of his own.

I was not disappointed!

Your Turn

Is there a book you waited a long time to read? Was it worth the wait?

Use the comment box below to explain. Please be sure to include the title of the book and the author’s name, in case one of our fellow readers wants to give it a try.

Thanks, I love hearing from you!

Best Books of September and October 2017

Time has run away with me this past season. School has started. Wildfires have burned unfathomable numbers of acres. I have struggled with, first, smoke-triggered asthma then simply continued asthma complications, and now we are one week into November, and I have not shared any of my favorite reads with you from the past two months.

I shall now make amends.

Two of the books I enjoyed this fall were continuations of series, Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal and Beastly Bones: a Jackaby Novel by William Ritter. Both are historical fantasies with female protagonists, but that is about as far as their similarities go. Both were equally as good as their predecessors, and I enjoyed them immensely. If you would like to know more about them, click here.

During these months, I also discovered a new mystery heroine (and author), and hunted down more books about her. Therefore, I would like to introduce you to To Shield the Queen, by Fiona Buckley, as a third, best read of the fall.

In To Shield the Queen, Ursula Blanchard goes to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I and finds the court aswirl with gossip about an affair between the married Robert Dudley and the queen. Literate Lives Best Book of September and October 2107 Fiona Buckley's To Shield the QueenSent by the queen to quash these rumors and help care for Dudley’s ailing wife, Ursula discovers the truth behind the scandal and uncovers a murderous plot that strikes far too close to herself and those she loves.

I enjoyed not just the delightful puzzle a mystery always poses, but also the character, Ursula, the people she comes to care about, and the portrait of her world created by Buckley. I am looking forward to reading more of the books in this series.

 

Best Books of August 2017

Best Books of August 2017

What did I do with my summer? Did I really only complete two books in August? Yikes!

Since the two books were really different and would appeal to different readers, I’m not going to force myself to choose one; I’ll discuss both!

Rooms by James Rubart

Rooms by James L. Rubart

The cover blurb reads: “What would you find if you wandered into the rooms of your own soul? One man is about to find out.”

This was a really unusual read for me because I rarely read contemporary novels, rarely read novels with male protagonists, and don’t often read paranormal novels, but I read this. Why? Rubart co-led the continuing class Heroes, Villains, & the Heart of Your Story: Building an Epic Book from Start to Finish at the Realm Makers Conference I attended at the end of July. I’d heard he was a fantastic writer, and I wanted to read something by him before the class started.

Rooms was an excellent choice. It was haunting, it was exciting, it had me constantly urging the protagonist to make the choices I wanted him to make. My treat for the day after the conference was to finish the book. I read all day, in my hotel room, in bed, by the window, by the pool, and back in bed again. I didn’t want to put it down, and was satisfied but sorry when I reached the end.

Newts Emerald by Garth NixNewt’s Emerald by Garth Nix

This YA novel is a fun mash-up of regency romance, fantasy, adventure, and mystery. Lady Truthful, nicknamed “Newt”, inherits her family’s treasure, the Newington Emerald, on her eighteenth birthday. No sooner does her father reveal the spectacular, and magical, gem, than the lights to out. When they come back on, the emerald is gone.

This novel is a fun and exciting romp as Newt, her cousins, an eccentric aunt, and a mysterious stranger join together to recover the valuable jewel.

Your Turn

Now, just because I made it easy and made the title “Best Books” plural all by myself, doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. What’s the best book you read in the last month? You can even cheat like I did and mention two! Just use the comment box below. I love hearing from you!

New Reading Rotation

A Reading Rotation

As happens periodically, usually at least once per year, I get tired of my established reading rotation, and I revise it.

(So, why bother? Because I have found in the past that without some form of genre rotation, I get stuck in a rut reading the same kind of book over and over again, despite my wider range of interests. So, when I get tired of one rotation, I find it worth my while to reinvent the “beast”.)

This time, I felt like I was not getting to spend enough time in the genres I either write or love to read. So I revised.

Here is the New Rotation

How Does it Work?

The basic rotation is the column on the left and the top chunk in the middle. I read through this from the top down through the two columns and mark with the month and year each listing read.

Nightstand Book: If a book I’ve read in the rotation is a series, the rest of the series goes on my nightstand to pick from so I do not have to wait for a full rotation to read the next book in the series.

Other Fiction: This is a list of other fiction genres/categories (ex. Goudge is author Elizabeth Goudge, a long-time favorite. I just keep rotating through rereading her books.)

Mystery Rotation: This category allows me to rotate through my favorite mystery authors so I don’t have to wait for them to get their turn in the alphabetical rotation. (I have a lot of books in my favorite genres.) You will find the list of authors to rotate through in the right column.

Non-fiction: I both enjoy and need to read nonfiction (to expand my horizons, build my writing craft, and support the world-building for my fantasy writing). So, this is the list of non-fiction works I rotate through.

Byzantine

I know it looks rather crazy and complex, but it works for me. What really matters is not that I rotate through the genres but how much I read different types of books. This newest helps me read my favorite genres, while sticking to a desire to read other types of works as well.

Your Turn

How do you organize your reading time, or–not? What do you feel are the benefits of your method or non-method for organizing your life? I’d love to know! Just use the comment space below.

Best Book of July 2017

Whoa! I visited my reading log and discovered I have only completed one book this month. Yikes! (This is by no means an excuse, just an explanation–this was my “travel” month. First I visited my mom, then I attended a writing conference–more on that another time, and then my husband and I went on a road trip. Too often, I have fallen into bed exhausted at the end of the day instead of ready to enjoy a good book.

So, the only book I read is also my favorite book I read (however, please note, I recall thinking, multiple times as I read it, that any other book would have a hard time beating it out). Soooo…

The Best Book of July 2017 is:

A Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.

This is an exceptional novel. The reader knows, from the beginning, that plague is going to strike the 17th century English village that is the setting, and as you read the tale of one woman who survived, the expected heartbreak and tragedy relentlessly unfolds. You witness heroism and horror, and you hope and despair right along with the narrator. The only thing that kept me from giving this a five-star review on Goodreads was the ending. I had hoped for so much more for our heroine…but I won’t give anything away. And even with what felt to me like an unsatisfactory ending, I kept hoping for something better (and enjoying the novel) all the way up until the final pages. Read this fascinating book! You will not be sorry.

Chicken Soup for the Soul’s “The Queen of Parking Spaces” Now Available on Podcast

Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Queen of Parking Spaces by Debby Zigenis-LoweryChicken Soup for the Soul is a great market for writer’s wanting to break in. Want to know how I know? Well, when my only publication credits so far were with Cricket magazine (for which I will be eternally grateful; I don’t mean to put them down at all–it’s just I felt I needed to branch out a bit) Chicken Soup for the Soul bought my very first submission to them–“The Queen of Parking Spaces,” inspired by my relationship with my Aunt Judy. (Sorry, I know that’s a capitalization error, but I just can’t make myself type a lower case “A.” For me, “Aunt” is part of her name.)

What Chicken Soup for the Soul Wants

Here, in their own words, is what Chicken Soup for the Soul looks for:

…an inspirational, true story about ordinary people having extraordinary experiences. It is a story that opens the heart and rekindles the spirit. It is a simple piece that touches our readers and helps them discover basic principles they can use in their own lives….

Chicken Soup for the Soul stories are written in the first person and have a beginning, middle and an end. The stories often close with a punch, creating emotion, rather than simply talking about it. Chicken Soup for the Soul stories have heart, but also something extra—an element that makes us all feel more hopeful, more connected, more thankful, more passionate and better about life in general….

Keep your story to 1200 words or less. Tighten, tighten, tighten!

You can learn more about their criteria for submissions at their “Guidelines for Submissions,” and you can sign up for their free newsletter, here.

“The Queen of Parking Spaces” Podcast Goes Live Monday

To my delight, I have learned my “Queen of Parking Spaces” will have a new life. On Monday, it will become part of Chicken Soup for the Soul‘s podcasting program.

New podcasts will appear each weekday, featuring stories from their many books. Each day is themed:

  • Motivational Monday
  • Tip Tuesday
  • Wow Wednesday
  • Thoughtful Thursday
  • Friend Friday (Which will feature an interview with one of their writers.)

So if you need a little pick-me-up, you can tune in and listen to your heart’s content

What About You?

Have you had your short story, personal essay, or creative nonfiction accepted in Chicken Soup for the Soul or any other anthology? If so, please use the comment space to let us all know. Give us your name, the title of the anthology, and the title of your piece so we can support each other.

Do you enjoy reading Chicken Soup for the Soul or any other anthology? Use the comment space to share the title. Everyone can always use another recommendation of a good book.