Friday, December 05, 2014

Best Books of 2014 and a Christmas Book Selection

I've read 165 books so far in 2014, and rated 27 of them as 5 stars on Goodreads. I suppose I should wait until the end of the year to see if any more books rate 5 stars, but I was thinking about end of year lists, so I'll go ahead and list these here now.

The Runestone Incident, by Neve Maslakovic
The Language of Spells & The Secrets of Ghosts, both by Sarah Painter
A Second Chance, & A Trail Through Time, both by Jodi Taylor
The Damsel and the Daggerman, by Delilah S. Dawson
Mission to Murder & Guidebook to Murder, both by Lynn Cahoon
Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin
The Cat Sitter's Nine Lives, by Blaize & John Clement
Midnight Crossroad, by Charlaine Harris
Don't Look Back, by Greg Hurwitz
The White Magic Five and Dime, by Steve Hockensmith
Vanished, by Kendra Elliot
Second Star to the Right, by Mary Alice Monroe
Serpent's Kiss & Oracle's Moon, both by Thea Harrison
When I Found You & Take Me With You, both by Catherine Ryan Hyde
One Breath Away, by Heather Gudenkauf
Half Off Ragnarok and The Winter Long, both by Seanan McGuire
Night Broken, by Patricia Briggs
Broken Homes, by Ben Aaronovitch
Mortal Danger, by Ann Aguirre
Hard Return, by J. Carson Black

I've loaded my Kindle apps with a bunch of Christmas books, and that's what I intend to concentrate on in the weeks before Christmas. These look like the best bets so far, mostly anthologies:

Cozy Christmas Capers, a holiday short story collection
My True Love Gave to Me, a holiday story anthology edited by stephanie Perkins
Cat Deck the Halls and Cat Coming Home, both by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
Fatal Fruitcake, by Mary Kay Andrews
Kiss of Christmas Magic, a paranormal holiday anthology
A Fantastic Holiday Season, an anthology edited by Kevin J. Anderson
A Fantastic Holiday Season Volume 2, a anthology edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Keith J. Olexa
Let it Snow, a speculative fiction holiday nthology
Let it Snow, three holiday romances edited by John Green
A Cosmic Christmas, edited by Hank Davis
A Cosmic Christmas 2 You, edited by Hank Davis

And of course, there's always Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, by Connie Willis

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Book Series Recommendation


It's been awhile since I discovered a new (to me) series that I can read all the way through without waiting for the next book, so I'm very happy that I discovered Thea Harrison's "Elder Races" series this fall.

I somehow ran across a $.99 short story set in the series called Peanut Goes to School. It had an adorable cover, and after I downloaded and read the free sample, I went ahead and bought it. It turned out to be about the young son of two shapeshifters, one of whom was a dragon. To my surprise, I found it to be very well written, and I enjoyed it very much. So I ended up purchasing the first full length book, Dragon Bound, shortly thereafter.

The series is set in a world where there are shapeshifters, fairies, vampires, etc., which isn't all that different from a lot of paranormal novels. But there's just something about the way Harrison writes that brings this world to life in a wonderful way that I haven't experienced in awhile. Maybe it's because I'm gorging on them.

Dragon Bound is about Dragos, a shapeshifting dragon -- the shapeshifting dragon. There are a lot of other shapeshifters, but only one dragon. Normally I would scoff because the premise sounds so crazy, but once I started it, I couldn't put it down. It's a romance -- a young shapeshifter woman (Pia) (not a dragon, but we don't find out what she is until much later) is blackmailed into stealing something from the dragon's hoard, and even though it's only a penny, the dragon notices that it's gone and devotes himself to finding who stole it and why.

It's a romance (obviously), and it's just wonderful.

The rest of the books are:

No. 2 - Storm's Heart, about Tiago (the Thunderbird) and Tricks (an elf)

I really enjoyed Storm's Heart. Both Tiago and Tricks are employees of Dragos'. Tiago is an ancient Native American God and Tricks is an elf, Dragos' PR person. Part of what makes these books so addictive is the protective aspect of the (very) alpha males.

No. 3 - Serpent's Kiss, about Rune (a gryphon) and Carling (a vampire)

Each of the books are about a different couple, and when I read that the third book was about Rune, a gryphon and Dragos' second, and Carling, the former queen of the vampires, I put off reading it for a couple of weeks. I just didn't warm up to Carling when she appeared in the other books. But I finally bought it, and as I was reading it, I was thinking, don't even worry about the rest of them, just buy them, they will all be wonderful.

No. 4 - Oracle's Moon, about Grace (an oracle) and Khalil (a djinn)

I was a little hesitant about the fourth one as well, Oracle's Moon, but I bought it yesterday and finished it this morning, and it is my favorite so far. I thought the oracle would be interesting, but again, I hadn't warned up to Khalil, the djinn, in the other books. But he turned out to be one of the most interesting characters, mostly because he is the least human (of course, not human at all).

It might actually be one of the best books I have ever read. So I have no qualms about buying the rest of the series:

No. 5 - Lord's Fall, Dragos and Pia again

No. 6 - Kinked, about Aryal, a Harpy and Quentin. Okay, I'm a little leery of this one, because after reading some reviews it sounds a little, well, "kinky," but I'll give it a shot.

No. 7 - Night's Honor - Tess and Xavier (vampire)

No. 8 - Midnight's Kiss (due to be published 5/5/15) - Julian (vampire) and Melisande (fae)

There are several other novellas and short stories sprinkled throughout, and Harrison's website lists them all in order.

I just wanted to mention these books in case anyone else is looking for a really absorbing series to get lost in.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

I'm not a big shopper.  I'm a big browser, I guess, but I don't really buy a lot of stuff.  I do go out on Black Friday, but traditionally, I make it a day for myself and just buy a few little things.  Today I gathered up my coupons, and went out at around 9:30.  My day:

Starbucks: A Grande Peppermint Mocha, free, using my filled-up holiday drink sticker card (buy 5, get one free)

Ulta: A free mascara for my birthday.  I also tried to convince the salesgirl that shampoo was on sale, when it clearly wasn't, because I knew I had seen it.  Turned out, it was on sale at:

Beauty Brands: The shampoo I use, Matrix Biolage Color Care, was half price, a normally $19.99 liter bottle for $10.

Kohls: I had a 15% off coupon, plus a $10 "gift" coupon.  I'd been wanting some stud earrings.  I knew I couldn't afford diamonds, and most of the cheap cubic zirconium ones are too sparkly and fake looking, but I wanted to look again.  I wanted some yellow gold ones.  I was going to settle for a sterling silver pair, but found some 10K gold ones with white topaz stones.  They're a little larger than I wanted, but very pretty.  The original price was $125.  They were on sale, then there was an extra 20% off, and with my 15% off plus my $10, they ended up being around $27, which I didn't think was bad.

Then I had lunch at Long John Silver's, using a coupon for a free fish sandwich.  It was pretty good.

Then I went to Barnes & Noble.  I had a 30% off coupon that was only good today.  I had gone online and had them save a calendar for me, one that I get Bob every year (shhh), and I wanted to be sure to get it.  So I got that, and I used the 30% off coupon for a small red Moleskine agenda to carry in my purse.  I haven't given up on the big Daytimer--I still use it for work--but it's too big to carry around all day, and I like to have something small to write in if the urge strikes.

So then I went to Target, but first I stopped at Macy'sShopKick was doing a big Black Friday push where you got 200 walk-in points at several locations, so I walked into Macy's and got 200 points, then went to Target, and with the 200 points there, plus the ones I already had, I had enough for a $4 coupon, which I used to buy a $5 DVD copy of "The Holiday."

And I went to WalMart to see if I could get a DVD that Bob wanted, but they didn't have it, so that was kind of a waste, except that I got another 200 ShopKick points.  I also went to CVS to try to spend a $3 birthday coupon, but I didn't really need or want anything and was getting tired, so I went to Hen House to get a couple of things--bread, 7-Up, and tortilla chips, and came home.

I pretty much had a coupon for everything, and any actual money I spent came off of a gift card that I had been given in thanks for some work I did, so I didn't spend any real money at all. Pretty good day, actually.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Random

When did it become acceptable to use "ask" as a noun, i.e., "I need to take care of a client ask," or "Here's a list of the asks."  What's wrong with "question," or "request," or "requirement?"  Too many syllables?  Where did it come from?  Is this just a case of someone trying to be clever and it spilled over into marketing-speak?  I've started to hear it all over the place, and I think the thing that annoys me about it the most is that it's not a new, made-up, word, but an existing word used in a weird, awkward way.  I see no need for it.



I went to the allergy doctor several months ago and he said that he believed that I had both asthma and acid reflux, which often go together.  He prescribed several, well, five, medications for me.  I dutifully filled the prescriptions and have been taking everything at the mandated times.

For about a month I have had excruciating pain in my knees. I figured I had twisted my knee or something, although I couldn't really remember anything.  I wore a brace for awhile, and that helped, but I hated to get dependent on it.  It was getting so bad that I could hardly walk.  Hot baths helped, but getting in and out of the tub was almost impossible due to the pain in my knees.  I've been hobbling around like an old woman, thinking maybe I'm just too heavy, and I reached the point at which my knees could no longer take it.

On Friday evening, I was lying in bed with my legs up over a pillow to keep them in a semi-bent position, which seemed to work the best.  If I laid when them out straight, it was terrible to bend them, and vice versa.  I thought, this is ridiculous, I feel like I'm in a hospital bed. And I had this epiphany--maybe the joint pain was a side effect of one of the new meds I was taking, because it didn't really make any sense.  The arrival of the knee pain corresponded closely with the time that I stopped using a sample Symbicort inhaler that the doctor had given me, and started using a new one, Advair, since my insurance wouldn't cover the Symbicort.

So I didn't take anything on Saturday or Sunday, and Monday morning I would estimate my knees felt 80% better.  On Monday afternoon, though, my chest was feeling tight, so I went ahead and took an asthma pill (Singulair), and I was having heartburn later in the afternoon, so I took the acid reducer (famotidine) when I went to bed. I did not use the Advair inhaler, which is what I believe is causing the problem.  (This may be just because I hate it -- it tastes bad, is unpleasant to use, and is very expensive.)

Last night I ran a bunch of errands after work -- got gas, went to Bed, Bath and Beyond for a small space heater and humidifier supplies, picked up a book at the library, cashed a check at the bank, went to Kohl's to spend a $5 coupon that expired today, and went to the grocery store.  By the time I got home several hours later, my legs were really tired and sore, but they didn't feel too bad this morning, certainly better than they had for weeks.

I called the doctor's office yesterday, wanting to talk to him to see if it was plausible that one of the meds was causing the joint pain, and someone from the office called back this morning.  She said he had left a note that I was to stop all meds for one week, then add them back in, one per week, and see if the pain came back.  This was extremely upsetting, because the whole reason I had gone to him in the first place was that I was coughing so badly that I was sleeping on the couch so as not to keep Bob up, and maybe sleeping two or three consecutive hours a night.

I understand what he is trying to do, and it makes sense, but I just don't see how I can do it.  I would be absolutely miserable for six weeks without anything to treat the asthma, allergies, or acid reflux.  The nurse asked, "Is that something that you can do," and I told her no, I just didn't see how I could.  I said that I would think about it and maybe call the doctor back next week.  I don't know what to do.  I really like the doctor, and I want to do what he says, but I just don't think I can do it.  I think I'll try a few more days without the Advair and see how it goes. That will be my version of a scientific experiment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Creating habits

I'm doing a photo-a-day thing over on Instagram. I love Instagram, and I'm having a lot of fun playing around with different photography apps and filters, and making my photos look interesting (at least to me). The person running the project picks four photos each day, and I don't know whether to say they're the "best," or her favorites, or what the criteria is. She says that's difficult, and I'm sure it is. I've looked at a few of the ones that were picked, and so many of them look like professional photos, with lightboxes and staged object and posed subjects. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I couldn't be less interested.

I love the little moments, the everyday things. I love seeing a blurry photo of someone's scruffy dog, or the flowers that they got for their anniversary, or their kids' Halloween costumes. My own photos tend to be what I see out the window at work, or Dinah lying in her chair, or one of the dogs at work acting goofy, or a fortune cookie fortune that tickled me. I try to make a nice composition, at least sometimes, but I usually don't give it a lot of thought. For me, the point is recoding something from my day, and making the commitment to look for something beautiful, or at least interesting, in that day. And to take the photo of that everyday object and play around with it and make it more interesting, or more beautiful.

Rachel Herron writes:

That part, the cataloguing, feels important to me. We’re so good at posting the pretty and the perfect. We like Pinterest for a reason. Pretty is attractive. We like the well lit, the well composed, the perfect. It’s good to open that up and post the real things, the attempts that don’t work as well as the ones that do.

She's talking about a sketch-a-day project that she's doing, but the sentiment is the same.

This month the project is alphabetical, i.e., the first day of the month was A, the second day B, and so on. I couldn't think of anything for yesterday (N) until I went to the cabinet for a snack and saw the container of mixed nuts. Aha! The picture isn't very well composed, or particularly interesting, but it's a slice of my life, and when I see it I will remember the process of creating it.

The benefits are two-fold. One, it's a commitment to do something every day, whether inspiration strikes or not. Because you can't wait for inspiration to strike, you have to forge ahead and keep your eyes open, and make it happen. Make it happen every day, make it into a habit, and it will be so much fun to look back on. I'm also doing two other "every day" projects right now. One is affirmations that I write every morning, and the other is a gratitude journal that I write every night. I put them in my iPhone reminders, and it is always a temptation to say, "oh well, it doesn't matter if I skip a day," but it does matter.

Two, it's creative. It may be a tiny bit of creativity, but it's creativity, and every little bit helps push me to the next level. It's like Anne Lamotte's concept of "shitty first drafts," or Barbara Bretton's "butt to chair." You just put it out there, and keep putting it out there, and even if the first iteration is terrible (and it almost always will be), it will just keep getting better as time goes on. You just have to keep doing it.

So, I just keep doing it. Today's letter is O . . . .

(I designed Barbara Bretton's website, and I'm pretty proud of it. I'm not even going to put any caveats or false modesty in there, because I know it's good. Once in awhile you just get it right.)

(Oh, and I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year, and it's not like I have nothing else to do. But the busier I am, the more plates in the air, the better.)