The Best of the Best Ereads of Summer, So Far…

The Best of the Best Ereads of Summer, So Far...; Debby Zigenis-Lowery's Literate LivesThis summer has been a “medical” summer. As those of you who are teachers know, any procedure that can be postponed until summer break usually is, and that is precisely what happened with this household of educators.

The positive side of this quiet summer is that I have had a lot of time for reading, both books and on the web. In fact, I saved so many articles for this “Best Ereads” post that I had to delete a few in order to not to run over long. So, these are actually the best of the best articles and blog posts I’ve read this summer so far.

Education

A cautionary tale… This title seems to say it all, or does it? Although I accept, in fact already believed, that eye/hand coordination can impact academic performance, the article does not conclude that gross motor skills, as the title implies, is the key. The most important thing I learned from this article is that it is essential to read critically, and to exercise this skill with all media, especially electronic.

The Life of the Mind

This article explores the value of imagination, which is greatly unappreciated world-wide. According to Rivandeneira, “Imagination is a practical means for achieving and enabling…commonly valued skills.” I whole-heartedly agree. Imagination is not only a necessity for children and artists, it is the engine behind problem-solving and the creation of every practical thing that makes life in the twenty-first century good. Keep exercising yours and encourage your loved ones to exercise theirs.

“For those who identify as introverts, the interior journey offers an alternative path to deeper meaning—one steeped in silence and solitude, rest and simplicity, wisdom and tradition, beauty and mystery.” — Lacy Ellman

Being an introvert myself, it has been so exciting to find so much being written on the study of introversion and the introvert lifestyle. (Quite Revolution, the blog on which I found this article, is one of my favorites.) I really valued Ellman’s contributions to the discussion.

Jane Yolen is the queen of Folkloric Fantasy, the genre in which I write, and so I both enjoyed and was inspired by Windling’s profile of the prolific author. In addition to talking about Yolen’s fiction writing, Windling and Yolen discuss the centrality of writing in her life, a topic highly espoused here at Literate Lives. Enjoy!

As an introvert, I often find myself overwhelmed by the rapidity of communication options, deluge of information, and unending bombardment of the twenty-four hour news cycle. Therefore, I really appreciate Ta-Hehisi Coates and Jen Pollock Michel’s call for thinkers to be given time to think before being expected to provide insight and answers. This is a provocative read.

To facilitate your journey into the life of the mind, here are some writing prompts for August from A Symphony of Praise.

Writing

Yikes! I’m still running long. The following are posts deal primarily with fiction writing and the professional writer’s life, two areas in which I seek to continue learning and growing in skill:

This last is for both writers and Language Arts teachers: “Grammar and the Singular ‘They,’” b Steve Laube. This article addresses an issue I struggle with, especially here on the blog. I want to be gender inclusive. I will often alternate between he and she, but even doing that, things can get clunky. Therefore, I found this article by literary agent Steve Laube very helpful.

Your Turn

What have you been reading online this summer? Any particular article that inspired or excited you? Please share the title and link in the comment box below. Let’s encourage one another!

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The Best Book of Spring 2018

The Best Book of Spring; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/The summer solstice has passed, and so I thought it’s about time I posted my best read of Spring. For a long time I debated between several books, then I finally chose one, then in early June I picked one up that knocked all the others out of first place. Therefore, since I didn’t recommend a new book each month, I’ll recommend the first “first place” book, then the one that undeniably was the best read of Spring.

Almost Best: The Illuminator

This is a work of historical fiction by Brenda Rickman Vantrease. I found both the setting and the characters fascinating. The novel takes place in fourteenth century England, where Wycliffe’s translation of the Bible into plain English is outlawed, Dame Julian of Norwich has retreated to a hermit’s cell, and people of the Jewish faith are shunned and persecuted. The main characters live near Norwich, and Dame Julian actually plays a supporting role in the story!

However, the novel belongs to Lady Kathryn, a struggling widow who takes in a manuscript illuminator and his daughter as lodgers in her home. As their families mix, religious controversy mounts, and a peasant’s revolt brews, both she and her newfound companion struggle to fulfill their responsibilities to their children, their church, and society while trying to grab hold of just a little bit of happiness for themselves.

It is a gripping tale.

The Best Book of Spring; https://literatelives.wordpress.com/Best Book of Spring 2018: Six of Crows

This is the first book in a fantasy duology set in Leigh Bardugo’s “Grisha World.” (I  read and raved about her first Grisha trilogy in What I’m Reading Now: Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow & Bone.)

Six of Crows  takes place after the events of the Grisha Trilogy and is set outside of Ravka, the nation previously featured. Because of this, I was not sure I even wanted to read it; I had loved the original trilogy so much. However, as soon as I dipped a toe in the water, Bardugo captured me as swiftly and completely as she did with her first series.

To say Six of Crows  is a “heist” story would be like saying “Lord of the Rings” is a quest story. The world, the individual settings, the characters, and the stakes make it so much richer and deeper than something to which you can simply assign a label .

It is the tale of six damaged, gang affiliated, ragamuffins from the “dregs” of “Ketterdam” society who set out to save the world and win a fortune. Each has his or her own reason for wanting the money, reasons firmly rooted in their hurts and in their pasts. Each is terribly lonely; yet yearning for community, they are terrified to commit. However, in order to win their fortune, even to survive, these six very different individuals must trust each other unwaveringly with their very lives.

I hated every moment I had to put it down!

Your Turn

What was your best read of spring. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one book; I certainly did not. Use the comment space below to provide author name and title, and please, tease us with just a little bit of what the book is about. Let’s encourage one another!

The Best Ereads of Spring: Reflections on Parenting, Reading, Writing, and the Mind

The Best Ereads of Spring: literatelives.wordpress.comI had the opportunity to do a lot of reading this spring and so accumulated a lot of candidates in by “best ereads of the season file.” Finally I narrowed them down to these six reflecting on parenting, reading, writing, and the mind.

Hello, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Graduation

In Parents: Let Go of Graduation Nostalgia, by Jennifer Grant, the author chronicles her resistance to the nostalgia and even grief that can accompany a child’s graduation. With the premise that yes, our years of parenting were magical and significant, it is wise to savor where we are, perhaps even with younger siblings, and the opportunities that will open up for us and our graduates as they move into their adult lives.

Reading and Family Life

These next two articles celebrate the fun and health benefits of a reading life.

In How to Make Reading Fun: 25 Ideas Kids Will Love, by Jean Reagan. Reagan includes innovative ideas like having your child read a wordless book to you, reading a book which might include words or names you find difficult to pronounce, and much, much more.

For those of us with an overactive sense of guilt about the time we put in reading, Andre Calilhanna‘s Can Reading Books Lead to Better Health?  is a refreshing antidote. With headers that include, “Increases Longevity by 23%” and “Reduces Stress,” lovers of reading can throw guilt out the window and indulge in their favorite pastime with a clear conscience.

For Fiction Writers

First of all, for fiction writers, here is an excellent article by Dash Buck, Three Writing Exercises for Better Characters, which I would have titled “Three Awesome Writing Exercises for Better Characters.” It made me want to try them right away. (And isn’t the illustration, Butterfly Book by Rick Beerhorst beautiful!)

For writers working on planning and story structure, The Triangle of Structure for Writers, by Sarah Sally Hamer, is informative and provides a handy 3-sentence fill-in-the-blank exercise for crafting an effective inciting incident.

A Quiet Mind

One of the issues I struggle with is quieting my mind. Unless I am reading, writing, or–okay, I admit it, staring at the television, it ceaselessly ruminates, reflects, remembers, worries, plans, and imagines, which in reasonable quantities is, perhaps, a useful trait for a writer to have. Running out of ideas is definitely not an issue. However, resting and simply enjoying the moment is. Therefore, I connected immediately with and was inspired by Mindfulness and Memory, by Pamela Moore. Even the image chosen to accompany the article is deeply soothing, and the active form of mindfulness she describes is something that feels so much more doable with a busy mind like mine.

Your Turn

Have you found any great articles on the web? If so, please use the comment box to share them with us (include author and title or web address, please). Tell a little about why you liked it. Let’s encourage one another.

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!

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.

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.

 

Enchanting Openings: The Throme of the Erril of Sherill by Patricia A. McKillip

Enchanting Openings: The Throme of Erril of Sherill by Patricia McKillipLast night, I began reading Patricia A. McKillip’s The Throme of the Erril of Sherill and I went to bed enchanted.

Selecting a New Book

I had just finished an author biography the previous day, so it was time to select a new book. I consulted my reading list. Ah. Time for a fantasy. The first book I picked up was not The Throme of the Erril of Sherill. It was however, the next book behind the bookmark on my fantasy shelf. Delighted to be reading a fantasy, I sat down to enjoy.

Within five pages, I had decided this was not the book for me. So disappointing, but that did not mean I couldn’t read a fantasy. Back to the bookshelves I went, and McKillip’s The Throme of the Erril of Sherill was next in line. 

I have been enjoying Patricia McKillip’s books for more years than I am willing to confess. Suffice it to say, I started out with the Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy and went on from there. However, somewhere along the way I had bypassed The Throme of the Erril of Sherill.

Enchantment

Within the first three sentences, I knew this book would be a delight. McKillip begins:

               The Erril of Sherill wrote a Throme. It was a deep Throme, and a dark, haunting, lovely Throme, a wild, special, sweet Throme made of the treasure of words in his deep heart. He wrote it long ago, in another world, a vaguely singing, boundariless land that did not exist within the kingdom of Magnus Thrall, King of Everywhere. The King had Cnites to come and go for him, and churttels to plant and harvest for him, but no Cnite had ever looked up into the winking morning sky and seen Sherill, and no churttel had ever looked at the rich clods of earth between his boots and seen the Erril’s world. Yet the Erril, long, long, ago wrote a Throme of singular and unsurpassed beauty, somewhere in his own land called Sherill, and the dark Kind of Everywhere desired that Throme.

Analysis

At first, it may strike you as odd that this captivated me, considering its weird, undefined words (Throme, Sherill, Cnites, and churttels) and repetitions, and yet, it was the very first words and repetitions that enthralled me.

My first thought was, “Jabberwocky!” It reminded me of Lewis Carrol‘s famous nonsense poem. The most obvious connection was the made-up words, however that was not all.

Although written as prose, this first paragraph is quite poetic. How?

First, it’s in the use of internal rhyme, for example, “Erril of Sherril.”

Furthermore, Mckillip uses repetition in a poetic way: “It was a deep Throme, and a dark, haunting, lovely Throme, a wild, special, sweet Throme made of the treasure of words in his deep heart.”

McKillip also employs alliteration (my particular favorite!): “a wild, special, sweet Throme…” The “wild,” “special,” and “sweet” just whisper to me like someone telling me a fantastic secret.

Furthermore, she did all this with complete confidence and authority, trusting her readers to understand and join in the journey.

And of course, there was the content itself:

  • The mysterious, yet decidedly haunting and musical Throme
  • The ideas of a boundriless land and a land literally named Everywhere
  • The curious citizens of Everywhere, Cnites and churttles, who have never seen Sherill
  • And, of course, the “dark” King Magnus, who desires the Throme.

The stage is set for a magical adventure.

Anticipation

I only read Chapter One last night, because it was a work night, and I am still recovering from a cold and needed rest, but, WOW, I am looking forward to reading more tonight.

Your Turn

Have you ever read a novel or short story that cast its spell over you with the very first words? Please use the comment space below to share the title and author, and the reasons it instantly grabbed hold of you.

Thanks so much! I love hearing from you!

 

 

Favorite E-reads of the Month: August/September

The time has come to share some of my favorites e-reads from the past month. These are posts I have found thought-provoking, intriguing, or inspiring. Enjoy:

7 Reasons Why We Like Novels
by DiAnn Mills, The Write Conversation
“6. Healing takes place within the storyline. Subject matter that touches our personal pain addresses ways we can survive our past. By exploring behavior, we gain new insights.”

Friends, Countrymen, Take Up Your Words!
Writer Unboxed
“We must unite as writers to take back our noble, our good, our mighty ordinance. Love, truth, respect, understanding: these are the words that need declaration.”

Art as Therapy: Alain de Botton on the 7 Psychological Functions of Art
by Maria Papova, Brainpickings
“…art’s most intimate purpose: its ability to mediate our psychological shortcomings and assuage our anxieties about imperfection… far more than mere aesthetic indulgence, art is a tool — a tool that serves a rather complex yet straightforwardly important purpose in our existence.”

Priorities Series – Part 1: Brain Dump
She Makes Time
“this is my favorite priority sorting activity! The sky is the limit with what you can discover about yourself, your past, and your future.”

Introverts as Revolutionaries?
by Susan Cain, Psychology Today
“…a question that has long intrigued me: whether there’s something about the nature of shyness and/or introversion that inclines people to nonviolent modes of resistance.

How Much Do You Value Yourself? A Radical Prescription for Personal, and World, Peace
by Steven Stosny, PhD, Psychology Today
“High self-esteem tends to create a sense of entitlement. When the world does not meet their entitlement needs, many with high self-esteem feel wronged and may retaliate with manipulation, abuse, or violence.
“Self-value is more behavioral than emotional, more about how you act toward what you value, including yourself, than how you feel about yourself compared to others.”

Favorite E-reads of the Month: August & September: literatelives.wordpress.com
Source: Sehnsucht (c. 1900). Heinrich Vogeler / Wikimedia Commons

Longing for More
by Andy Tix, Ph.D., The Quest for the Good Life
“‘Sehnsucht’ is a popular German word with no simple English translation…. . C. S. Lewis often relied on this concept in his writings, defining it as ‘inconsolable longing’ for ‘we know not what.’ …Lewis suggested how Sehnsucht involves ‘thoughtful wishing.’ …Sehnsucht has to do with an intense desire for something beyond our human capacity to fulfill. It is a bittersweet feeling that seeks a slice of perfection at the same time that perfection remains elusive.”

I really enjoyed the way these articles celebrated things I value or enhanced my awareness of different ways of thinking, understanding and tackling life.

Your Turn

Have you read anything in the past few weeks that made a deep impression on you? Please share titles (and links if you read it on the web) in the comment section below.

Did you check out any of the links I have included? If so, please share your thoughts or a favorite quote.

I love hearing from you!

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!