Best Books for Writers (and a Giveaway!)

 

I just returned from having coffee with fellow authorette, Bonnie Hardy. She’s got a great mystery series going, and if there’s one thing I love, it’s to talk shop. Although I’m sure I babbled like an excited second-grader at Disneyland, the bigger mystery for her was why I couldn’t speak coherently about books I’ve read and loved.

There are too many. They are one big sparkly blur. This is why I make lists.

When I first began my list of favorite books, I wrote this post. The Bottomless Bookshelf debuted in 2016, was updated in 2020, and now resides as a loooong list of “books I’ve read” on Goodreads, here.

That list is ordered by date, so I thought I’d pull together some titles by theme for better reference. If you’re a writer, these “sweet sixteen” books are for you. You might already have a few on your shelf or in your Kindle, but there’s always room for more, amiright?

These are books that were recommended to me in writing classes, in seminars, during webinars, by friends. They’ve encouraged, inspired, and generally kicked my butt into gear. I hope they do the same for you. Some are general, some are specific, and I’ve spread out the selection over a gamut of professional authory names. If you like what you see when you click and maybe *buy* one, I will get a nickel. Not that it changes anything on your end. You will still get a super fun reading experience or maybe end up writing your pages at two in the morning, but neither of those is my fault.

I just work here.

If you’ve recommended any of the above books, or discovered one that needs to be on this list, drop your comment below and have your name entered in a drawing to win my personal much-loved hardcover copy of Natalie Goldberg’s Thunder and Lightning. Must have a USA mailing address to qualify. Drawing ends next week at midnight, March 16th. Winner announced in the March 17th newsletter.

Thanks for the highly caffeinated inspiration, Bonnie!

The Historical Fiction Company Review

When it comes to things that spark joy for a writer, nothing is quite sparklier than someone who reads their book and enjoys it enough to share it.

To everyone who’s left a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or Bookbub, posted a pic of the book on social media, lent their paperback to a friend, or made so many compulsive noises while reading that the guy next to you said, “Oh good grief, what’s so crazy in the chapter now?”, THANK YOU.

This is why we’re here.

You are my people.

As my genre is historical mystery, it would make sense that folks who like my books also enjoy historical fiction, mysteries in several flavors, westerns, and poppycock.

Speaking of poppycock, I have to wonder if you grew up watching reruns of “I Love Lucy” and devoured all of Janet Evanovich…at least until she started bringing in ghost writers to help her with that outrageous work schedule of pounding out books like a crazy person that no single human could ever accomplish and you can totally tell because her books got diluted somehow and you end them scratching your head in disappointment.

I would hire a ghost writer, too, but all the little voices in my head would go on strike. They are very territorial critters.

Meanwhile, I’ve been collecting reviews and putting them in the Amazon pages (scroll down). You should take a look, especially if you want to leave a review yourself and are short on words of rhapsody. Fun stuff, this.

The latest review for Loveda Brown Comes Home is from the Historical Fiction Company, and I think you’ll enjoy their fun opinions on it! This lovely website is worth sticking around for a browse if you like historical fiction in all of its exciting eras.

What are your favorite genres? If you could only choose one, which genre would you place the Loveda Brown books in? Is there a particular author that they most remind you of?

Best Gifts for Book Lovers #2

Is it time to go shopping? Need the perfect gift for someone who loves to read but already has all the books? I’ve gone shopping for you!

Honor their need for words with this baker’s dozen list of best gifts for book lovers and get them some literary loot. They’re all from Amazon because that’s where I’ve been hanging out for the last year. If you make a purchase from one of the links below, I’ll get an affiliate commission. It doesn’t change the price for you. But it lets the Zon show me a little love. Smiles guaranteed.

    1. Very punny mixology books, Tequila Mockingbird or Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margarita
    2. The ultimate Literary Insult Chart
    3. Message-flipping pillow cover when you are so close to “The End”
    4. Comfy T “Bookmarks are for Quitters
    5. Noise cancelling bluetooth earbuds so you can READ already
    6. Adjustable reading support pillow wedge
    7. LED clip reading light
    8. A bamboo bookstand for your lap with page holders
    9. Or this nifty little walnut thumb-brace book page holder
    10. A cozy quilted blanket of books
    11. A custom library stamp and your lending kit
    12. Calendar with quotes or beautiful books
    13. The bucketlist Top 100 scratch-off Book Chart

Love on Your Library (A Giveaway!)

It’s National Library Week, and this picture makes me happy.

What? It appears utterly common, downright drab, and blends in with the native wildlife? Every mystic portal does, my deary. Only those with the gift of imagination know better and enter on tiptoe. There are aisles full of magic spells, swirling colors, acrobats. Dragons and race cars and music. Open a cover, turn a page, and you will disappear.

Turn right, and a keeper of words will tell you exactly where the unicorns are hidden. Turn left, and you will find a room where words can be taken home forever. Move forward fifty paces and unearth that one 80’s movie you can never find on Hulu.

But. If you take forty paces north by northwest and turn left at the yellow arrow, you’ll discover a treasure trove full of books marked with a purple “E”. Brace yourself.

Meet the lovely Azar Katouzian, the Principal Librarian at the Escondido Public Library who graciously hosted me as the guest author for this month’s writer’s group. It was a pleasure speaking with them about the creation of my Loveda Brown series and encouraging everyone to write on. In conjunction with the event, I donated copies of my books to their collection. I’ve always believed that books are meant to circulate, and when you’ve finished mine, I hope you pass the books on to more friends who love to read or donate them to your local library.

In addition, I now have a page of Resources for Writers on this website that brings all the articles, videos, podcasts, and groups together in one place. These are hubs of information that all authors can utilize. If you’re trying to get your writing projects to the next level, explore this tool box.

Meanwhile, as I was feeling some library nostalgia after my presentation, I ordered some swag for my office wall: a fun poster from the ALA Store. You’ll never guess which one I chose.

It’s been a while since our last giveaway! To get your name in a drawing for a free signed copy of Loveda Brown Comes Home, drop the name of the book you’re reading right now into the comment box below!

Winner pulled on May 3rd at midnight PST.

My Goodreads Reading Challenge

I love me a good reading challenge. I raised my fabulous five surrounded by books and, so far as I can tell, I think it’s done them well. The youngest is a tender twenty years old and can figure out the letters they put into math and occasionally spouts the Greek at me across the kitchen, just to make me shiver.

The alphabet. Don’t underestimate it.

We’ve graduated from the good old days when kids had nothing better to do during the long lazy months of summer but chase chickens around the backyard, annoy ant hills with a magnifying glass, or walk with the fam two blocks south for a visit to the public library. The attraction had as much to do with the free air conditioning as it did with seeing how many borrowed books we could squeeze into our little red wagon.

Every summer, the library held a Reading Challenge for kids. And we knocked it out of the ballpark. The kids still have medals to prove it. Perhaps the idea of a reading competition feels as exciting as watching grass grow or—follow me here—a golf tournament. But as my third child would say, you are a bucket of wrong.

And there comes a time when a mom can no longer live vicariously through her children.

Have you seen my Goodreads Challenge page? It’s Fitbit for readers.

The idea is to set yourself the goal of reading “X” amount of books during the calendar year and then, as you finish each one, you post it to your list along with a review if you so choose. Not just for a summer…for an entire year!

Come here, Goodreads.

First, I had to throw a huge backlist together of my favorite books that I’d already read (possibly multiple times) and it keeps me up at night, knowing I’ve missed actual thousands of titles because I was too chicken to post the kid books. I’d love for you to think my reading list is classy and intellectual, but I love “Where the Wild Things Are” and Ezra Jack Keats and every single Nancy Drew ever written, even though Caroline Keene is a lie and our relationship has been strained at best, ever since she came clean.

After posting the backlist, I had to remember what I read last year and hurt myself trying. It’s mostly accurate. But a goal for this year? I took a step back and made the rational decision that a book a month felt healthy. I do have a full-time job writing, but after all, I’m also in a real live Book Club. If I read nothing else, I can post the dozen current books that these hip and happenin’ ladies put in my path. Right?

Sigh.

I’m supposed to be halfway through “A Million Steps” by Kurt Koontz. Instead, I’ve hidden under the covers at night and binge-read Sue Grafton. My secret goal for the Reading Challenge is to get all the way through her alphabet before the Book Club catches on to me and I get the boot.

This is how my kids got into trouble at school, reading fiction under their desk instead of their math book sitting on top. I suppose that explains my twenty-year-old, though.

I read “Migrations” by Charlotte McConaghy like a good girl, and it gutted me entirely. I don’t know if I can handle that level of emotional shipwreck every month. I mean, I’m already doing that with menopause.

Last week, I posted “F is for Fugitive” on Goodreads. I’m claiming every page. Kinsey Millhone is steady, predictable, and teaching me about my own craft. It annoyed me that she didn’t describe herself until page fourteen and then said her hair was “dark”. Dark? Like brunette? Black? Mahogany? Glints of red or blue in the direct sun? Sure, it’s good enough to use those details on the suspects, but we readers need foundational reference. If you don’t tell me, I will make it up, Kinsey!

But that’s not the kind of stuff you post on Goodreads. You have to say things like, “Delicate and fresh, very soft tannins with fruity aromas. A little vivid for my taste, but overall well balanced and smooth on the palate.”

Sigh.

I will keep my opinions to the blog and keep my enormous pile of TBR books in the little red wagon next to the bed.

It’s full of the alphabet, G through Y, with a couple of Kiplings, a secret Madeleine L’Engle, a Shel Silverstein side wall, a bottom layer of JK Rowling, a mix of CS Lewis and EB White, random Janet Evanovich numbers, and a flashlight.

What’s in your little red wagon?

Bottomless Bookshelf Debut

It may just be the tea talking here, but I am having a FABulous morning.

You have to take ten minutes and sit with me, I want to show you something.

You guys, I built a thing. With my own ten fingers.

I know.

The Bottomless Bookshelf is up and running today and I only used a hammer a little bit, when the internet cut out…for three hours that I didn’t have time to waste. I want to paint it and we all know how that will turn out, so if you take a look in there and have an idea, drop it in this comment box.

I’m thinking “Bookworm Green” or maybe “Nerd Heaven”. Choose a color Shakespeare would approve.

It’s only got a handful of books in it at the present but I had so much fun remembering my old friends, that I will likely keep adding to it for years.

I really miss my book collection. The one that spilled all over the house until we had to move and then I was faced with sorting out only the best ones, because have you ever lifted a box of books? That’s some heavy reading, haha.

Calvin and Hobbes made the cut. I had to prioritize.

Please use this Bottomless Bookshelf to pieces. It follows the idea of the Little Free Library we were talking about earlier, “take a book, leave a book”, meaning help yourself to some new reading suggestions and leave some of your own in the comment box. I will take your recommendations and add them into the main bookshelf.

That also means that the list will hold books I’ve never read, so no coming after me later saying, “But Jolie this book stinks! It’s about a walrus and a pineapple wandering in Tibet and there’s even a naughty word in it!”

I love this kind of feedback.

But I will release the ferrets if you’re all up in my grill. I didn’t write it.

Meanwhile, I’m still adding shelves and categories. Many genres are blurry in my opinion so help me out if I stick one in the wrong spot. The librarian in me feels all fastidious about it.

I’m going back now to play with it some more. If it doesn’t pop right up when you click on it, I may be in there rearranging books and kicking up some dust. Count to ten and try again.

Go see it by clicking these pretty red words: Bottomless Bookshelf direct deposit.

Yay!

I can’t wait to lose myself in another book.

Cheers, my dears.

What Do Writers Read?

“The First 20 Hours, How to Learn Anything…Fast” by Josh Kaufman.

It should be titled, “The First 20 Hours, How to Discover if You Have Discipline”.

It may or may not have played into last Friday’s blog.

I love to read and I’m sad to report that I haven’t read a fiction novel in a very long time for fear of sailing off into the sunset with it, returning to reality only when I smell dinner burning and I’ve forgotten a child at school.

Because, discipline.

Instead, I find books at random and read them in tiny snatches like magazines, hoping something sticks. I have a book-stack that never seems to shrink.

My girlfriends have been trying for months to hook me up with podcasts and audiobooks and websites but that involves sitting down and holding still and, um, remembering there are such things in the world.

I finally finished Mr Kaufman’s book. He acquired six new skills over a year, devoting 20 hours to working each one out and when he reached his goal, he moved on.

The only thing I devoted 20 hours to was reading the book, looking for his secret. It was well hidden on the very last page: “If you want to acquire a new skill, you have to practice. There is no other way.”

Consistent, focused, deliberate practice. Well, why didn’t he say so in the first place?

I should have grabbed the book next to it by Gretchen Reynolds, “The First 20 Minutes”.

I’m out.

Let’s read the next book in the pile: “Rising Strong” by Brene Brown.

I enjoyed her “Daring Greatly” because it encouraged me to be braver with my blog. Her new one seems to be about the process of getting back up when you fall on your face.

Huzzah! I face plant all the time, thanks to discipline!

I’m halfway through the chapters and she blows the old “victim mentality” right out of the water with compassion and some common sense healthy attitudes.

I’m suspicious that practice and discipline are in there somewhere, but it will be messy and thoughtful with neither straight lines nor deadlines, and a lot of telling stories on herself. I love it.

Earlier this year, before I read about yoga and tellifin and websites and comedy and a curry recipe, I read Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love”.

Her front porch philosophy and her thoughts on five kids and the way she sees all kinds of sides on a coin had me laughing hysterically now and then and staring thoughtfully into space now and then, and this one has the honor of sitting on my shelf permanently for long-term use.

I read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert and it was so-so and then I read Twyla Tharp’s “The Creative Habit” which was pretty solid, and Gary Klein’s “Seeing What Others Don’t” about the world of insight, and something that wraps up the nuts on my family tree in gold foil, “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of literacy.

Today, we celebrate it with a website and a bookshelf, and probably a little Kipling on the side.

I found a website called goodreads.com that looks like fun.

So far as I can figure out, you tell it what you’ve already read and rate how much you liked it, and it recommends new books to you, from zombies to zinnias.

And then you take the list down to the library and check them out with a good old fashioned library card, right? To each her own, girlfriend, I have to fondle the pages.

Therefore, I’ve always been intrigued by something called “Little Free Library” which puts book-stacks curbside for the express purpose of book swapping. It’s a take a book/leave a book honor system that promotes reading and community. What a great idea.

As I have no carpentry skills, this weekend I’ll be building a little bookshelf right here on the blog; a place to leave your favorites for others to find…all over the world.

I’m painting it many shades of green.

What have you read this year that you really enjoyed, and why?

What was worth burning dinner for? Staying up until 2am for? Making three pots of tea for?

Stack your good reads down in the comment box.

You might want to set a timer on the oven.