Shit I Enjoyed Reading in 2018

With 2018 behind us, and resolutions shiny and new and still capable of being fulfilled before the next midnight party, I wanted to highlight the five-star books that I read in 2018. A common resolution is to read more, and in order to reach that goal, you need to set up a Goodreads account if you do not already have one (which has a function to set a reading goal for the year, and tracks the number of books read so long as you remember to input each one), and you need to have some good books to read. To assist with the latter, here are the books that I really liked that I read in 2018:

  1. Slow Days, Fast Company: The World, the Flesh, and L.A.: Tales
    1. Author: Eve Babitz
    2. Genre: Literary Fiction
    3. Deetz: Yes, I admit it. I tried Babitz because Belletrist picked her novel Sex and Rage as one of its’ monthly picks, and I have a bit of a girl-crush on Emma Roberts. Sex and Rage was perpetually checked out of the library, but Slow Days, Fast Company (“SDFC”) was on the shelf one day and I grabbed it. It was love at first read.
    4. Babitz herself is a fascinating personage. A ’60s and ’70s L.A. It-Girl who once took a photo playing chess with Marcel Duchamp in the buff, she became a recluse after being in a car accident in ’97 that resulted in severe burns over a large part of her body. In addition to leading an interesting life, the short stories in SDFC prove that she had the literary talent to make reading her work an exercise that continues to be worthwhile. SDFC takes you to ’70s L.A. It makes you feel the magic and the scumminess and the fun and the craziness that Babitz lived. It made me want to visit L.A., and although I cannot currently afford a ticket to CA, these stories take me there figuratively via glorious, escapist read.
  2. Anna and the French Kiss
    1. Author: Stephanie Perkins
    2. Genre: YA/Romance
    3. Deetz: Young love in Paris… doesn’t it sound wonderful? Well… Perkins writes a realistic novel about privileged, white teen Anna Oliphant, who is devastated to be uprooted from her home in Atlanta, Georgia, her senior year of high school to attend boarding school in Paris, France.
    4. Yes, going to Paris sounds like a dream for a lot of us – but Anna doesn’t speak any French, and was looking forward to one more year with the friends and family with whom she had grown up for one more year before the natural separations of college occurred, anyway. Anna is also a teenager upon whom this school was foisted by her father, a bestselling novelist who is super flaky and who has separated from her mother.
    5. If you are not dead-set against reading YA, and you have not read it yet, you should read this novel — the characters are realistic, the romance is both believable and swoon-worthy, and the setting is fantastic.
  3. The Diviners
    1. Author: Libba Bray
    2. Genre: YA/Mystery
    3. Deetz: The beginning of a series, The Diviners is told from the various viewpoints of young people around New York City with various divination abilities. This first novel primarily follows Evie O’Neill, an adorable aspiring flapper who is exiled to NYC after wreaking havoc at a party in her small hometown through use of her ability to know things about people that have not been verbally disclosed. Since she is supposed to remain on the down-low, she decides to investigate a series of murders the police have requested her uncle’s help on, because fuck safety and common sense, I guess.
    4. Evie’s a bit ridiculous, but she’s also plucky and fun. The serial killer is legitimately terrifying, in that shit-I-better-watch-some-Disney-princess-movies-or-leave-the-lights-on-when-I-sleep way. And in addition to being a good individual read, Bray is obviously setting up a series that could continue to be great (the other books in the series are on my TBR list, but I do plan to continue reading the series, which I rarely do anymore).
  4. Saint Anything
    1. Author: Sarah Dessen
    2. Genre: YA
    3. Deetz: Sydney has always felt invisible, in comparison to her older brother, the charismatic bundle of trouble who goes a little too far one night and irrevocably alters his life and the lives of those who are close to him. Peyton’s incarceration does not lessen this trait; if anything, it enhances it, to the point that Sydney feels unsafe but cannot find a way to express her feelings in a way that will be heard.
    4. Also, there’s pizza and romance sprinkled in.
    5. Dessen has a way of writing realistic teenagers that is thoroughly enjoyable, and this novel is one of her best (or at least one of my favorites).
  5. Misery
    1. Author: Stephen King
    2. Genre: Horror
    3. Deetz: Stephen King gets a lot of shit, and a lot of people seem to think liking his work is akin to eating toenails — but I think those people are wrong. Whether you like his work or not, King knows how to write. His plots are sometimes absolutely fucking crazy (a car that comes to life?!), but surprisingly, the stories manage to work. His characters are so real, you have to double check that the chill running down your spine isn’t because they have sprung out of the book and are breathing down the back of your neck. But the best part are the small details that are embedded in his writing, that really drive home the setting. For example, I realized that the 21-year-old drinking age was relatively new from reading The Dead Zone. I generally like King’s work, and Misery is one of my favorites.
    4. Bestselling author Paul Sheldon has just completed his best novel yet, and is returning from his self-imposed isolation in Colorado in a snow-storm while drinking champagne straight from the bottle. When this ill-advised celebratory behavior results in a horrific car accident, Mr. Sheldon finds himself waking in the bed of his #1 fan, who has saved his life. For now, at least…
    5. If you have not read this novel yet, I think you should.
  6. My Lovely Wife
    1. Author: Samantha Downing
    2. Genre: Thriller
    3. Deetz: A marriage begins with young love and the belief, or at least, the hope, that this love is strong enough to keep the two birds together for the long haul. However, time passes, and routines emerge, along with the possibility that those beautiful feelings will begin to fade and potentially even disappear.
    4. How do you keep the spark alive?
    5. For this couple, the answer is murder. Told from the point of view of the husband, this novel is full of some fairly predictable twists and turns (although there was one twist I expected that never materialized…), but still manages to be a helluva ride. Who cares if the ending is predictable when it’s so much fun getting there?
  7. The Circle
    1. Author: Dave Eggers
    2. Genre: Horror/Satire
    3. Deetz: Imagine you got your dream job… only to realize that your dream job may be stripping everyone, including you, of your fundamental rights? This novel grapples with ye olde internet, and the transparency that social media allows, and sometimes enforces. I really enjoyed this novel, which is one of the crrepier ones I read this year.
    4. *cough cough* Also, don’t judge it by the atrocity of a movie they adapted from it featuring Emma Watson. *cough cough*
  8. Beginnings, Middles, and Ends
    1. Author: Nancy Kress
    2. Genre: Non-fiction/Writing
    3. Deetz: This book is not for everyone. But if you are a writer, and ever get stuck while writing or editing a story, this book is a great reference. Broken out into three sections, this book delves into what makes a good beginning, middle, and end. It also, perhaps more importantly, suggests concrete approaches to take to make these sections work better. I read this book cover-to-cover, as more of an educational exercise, but the sections are broken out in an easy format that would allow a writer to double check a specific section or attack a specific issue with ease.
  9. Breakfast of Champions
    1. Author: Kurt Vonnegut
    2. Genre: Literary Fiction
    3. Deetz: My first Vonnegut, this book cleverly satirizes American culture. I devoured this novel, like a tasty piece of pizza after a particularly fun bout of drinking. The writing is clever, yet simple. Vonnegut even includes illustrations. The book seems designed to appear easy – it is easy to read, and appears that it must have flown from Vonnegut’s pen effortlessly. The reality is that it takes a lot of talent and finesse to create something that appears to effortless. But regardless of whether or not you want to take the time to appreciate Vonnegut’s talent, it is a great read that you will enjoy either way.

Do you have a great read that is not listed above that can be kept in mind for those of us looking for what to read next?

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Upcoming Hiatus: See You on the Other Side

My job is crazy busy from January through March each year. It’s expected, it’s slightly awful, and it’s part of the job. So realistically, I likely will not be able to post again until this busy season has ended, at which point, I will aim to post at least once a week. Just wanted to give a quick heads-up.

Please, send me kind thoughts to help me get through the crazy, and thank you for reading!

Probably me, for the upcoming 12 weeks or so…

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Nobody gets teen angst like a bestial metaphor

Let’s talk about the movie Thoroughbreds, which I watched recently over the holiday.

I was hoping to really like this film, which has been marketed as akin to “Heathers” meets “American Psycho,” both movies that I greatly enjoyed (although now that I think about it, there’s a TV show called Heathers as well, that I haven’t seen (and probably won’t), which could be part of the reference being made here, also). I did not like it as much as I was hoping.

In a nutshell, this movie primarily revolves around two teenage girls who rekindle an old friendship. One of them is a sociopath who feels no emotions, the other is an emotional girl who hides her turbulent emotions behind a social-friendly mask. When these girls begin speaking again, their conversations are unconventional, and become dangerous.

This movie has a lot of good elements:

  • the actors, though few, are all fairly good at their parts, particularly Olivia Cooke (the ill girl from Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and new Becky Sharp in the new Amazon Prime series Vanity Fair). Honestly, if there is a reason to watch this movie, it’s her.
  • the premise of maniacal, murderous mean girls, is both alliterative and fun.
  • there are many sequences that are shot very well. For those who have seen the movie (don’t worry, not going to get too spoiler-y), I found the scene where one character is incapacitated and the dramatic action occurs offscreen very compelling.

In spite of these good elements, however, the movie did not work. The plot is too thinly drawn, and the pacing is off. In spite of a plethora of great scenes that are well acted and shot well, the amount of stale, stagnant time between these scenes is too abundant to keep the viewer as invested as he/she otherwise might be. Overall, I would not recommend this movie if you have not yet seen it.


If you have seen it, please let me know your impressions and thoughts in the comments below. Do you agree with me? Disagree? Want to take up horse riding?

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Writing Prompt: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The lights were, by turns, beautiful, dazzling, sophisticated, funny, overdone, underdone, twinkling, moving, immutable. Distracting even if a person was not consumed with a rabid holiday fervor, although in his experience, most people were infected with good feelings in spite of the fiscal woes associated with the end of the year. This festive virus ensured that the addition of a few tiny bulbs of luminescence made the host entirely unaware of his or her surroundings.

This young woman, for example, with her silky brown hair trailing down her back in waves and her soft cashmere travel wrap, would not ordinarily let a hitherto unknown man stand a mere foot or two away from her for longer than a minute, two at most, unless that man was exceptionally handsome. Yet he, who fell short of even being average-looking, had been hovering near her for a quarter of an hour, and had not received so much as a cursory glance. The scent of Chanel No. 5 wafted through the crisp night air, and breath escaped her mouth in a white fog that merged with his own exhalations.

He could be the love of her life, right here, within touching distance. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. And then he, smitten by her beautiful brown orbs, would lose track of where he was and trip over the rubber-tipped toe of her Sorel snowboots. She would giggle, and say something slightly snarky and comforting while flashing a white, orthodontia-enhanced smile. He would respond with some witty repartee, and convince her to get a coffee with him. She would nurse something sickeningly sweet and holiday inspired, like a gingerbread latte. They would talk in the dim lighting of the coffee shop until it closed, and then he would walk her home. A kiss would be shared under the gently falling snow, the first of many more.

He could be a rapist, stalking his prey right here, within touching distance. She could look away for a few seconds, only to feel his hand clamp over her mouth and nose, holding a white rag damp with chloroform. He could drag her limp, heavy body behind the clump of large evergreen trees just a few feet away. She would awaken, hours later, as her consciousness slowly, painfully broke through the heavy, drug-induced haze. She would endure hours waiting in the hospital to be examined, shivering in a green smock that exposed her back and the bruises on her sancrum, where she would learn that in addition to being defiled, she had permanently lost feeling in three of her toes due to frostbite. Then, she would be hoisted onto the police for questioning, where she would be implicitly told, over a cup of gritty dark coffee, that she had been asking for it, wearing such a formfitting snow coat.

He could be her long-lost brother, the black sheep who left the family over a decade ago in pursuit of money and fame in Los Angeles. She could look over, and their eyes could lock, for a minute. They would simultaneously recognize their mother’s eye shape, and know that this was their former playmate, sparring partner, and confidante. She would envelop him in a tight hug, and they would head to a bar. Over cheap, sour beer, he would explain how he was disillusioned, and had only realized after heading out there that he did not have the looks, talent, or contacts to act, nor did he have the money, power, or contacts to produce, and had wasted the past eleven years washing dishes. How he had been completely alone when his cat Mr. Egghead passed away, and had decided it was time to come back home, where he could live with mom and dad and figure things out.

He could be anyone, anything, and she – distracted by the lights – would not look over, would not see him. It was too early for the drunks to come stumbling home from the bar, Taco Bell bags clutched tightly in their fingers and off-key carols escaping their lips. Too late for the frazzled shoppers, who had already driven home, made numerous arm-laden trips into their houses with the as-yet unwrapped presents, and now drank their eggnog and hot chocolate before the fireplace. It felt as though they were alone in the world, and anything was possible.

Christmas truly was the most wonderful time of the year.

She was still focused on the lights when the pain bloomed in her lower intestines. The knife slid easily in and out of her person, and he was walking away, each step crackling with the salt on the soles of his boots, as her blood began to pour onto the clean white snow.

December Writing Prompt #13 from M’s blog Putting My Feet in the Dirt

Driving in Darkness

There is a sense of coziness, as the darkness envelopes my car from all sides, my headlights making a small impact on the surroundings. I am a piece of Americana, a small and insignificant personage in the vastness which surrounds me, yet also a part of something much greater than any single person could ever be.

This sense of rightness with the world around me is confined to the morning, metamorphosing into unease and vulnerability in the evening when there are few cars on the road.

What is it about the morning that furnishes a sense of possibility when the evening just starkly reminds me how easy I am as a target? It would be just as easy for a serial killer to hide and lunge at me from the backseat in the dark of morning, yet the possibility only suggests itself to me in the post meridiem hours. It has nothing to do with visibility; if anything, my sight tends to be more impaired in the morning, when there is sometimes fog drifting across the road and adding yet another layer of difficulty for my glasses to assist me in discerning.

Am I the only one who feels this way? What slightly illogical actions and/or items do you enjoy?

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Le Bon, Not Bad, and the Coffee

In my very first blog post, I mentioned that I drink a considerable amount of coffee. The prodigious amounts of the liquid ambrosia consumed results in my opinionated person being potentially persnickety – particularly when the standard cost of a fancy coffee these days is $5. (Because if I’m not drinking fancy coffee, why wouldn’t I just make the coffee myself at home? Isn’t that what travel mugs are for?)

For those persnickety coffee dipsomaniacs in, around, or visiting the city of Ann Arbor, let me introduce Le Bon Macaron.

This coffee shop, located on Fourth Street (right next to where Aunt Agatha’s used to be, before it closed down in August of this year) is actually a chain, and has locations in Grand Rapids and East Lansing. I can only speak to the Ann Arbor location, since that is the only location I have personally visited, but the chain seems to be a mom-and-pop sort of thing, which may mean that all locations have the same standards of quality.

Le Bon Macaron has coffee, tea, and, much as its’ name implies, macarons. Now, if you don’t like a well-made macaron, I will never understand you as a person. And this place has well-made macarons. At $2 apiece, these small delicacies are not cheap, but honestly, you probably only want to eat one or two, anyway (#pretendtobehealthy), and they are well made enough that I consider them worth the price point. Seriously, just thinking about the texture of the biscuits enveloping the creamy insides of these delicious morsels is making my mouth water. I know that I sound ridiculous – but I am actually 100% telling the truth.

Moving on to the coffee. There’s none of this large, larger, largest, bullshit. Each drink comes in one size, so the ratios of coffee to milk to syrup, etc., are made as intended and these proportions don’t get altered based on decisions of magnitude. I am personally a fan of the latte, which can be flavored with various, hand-made syrups that will make you want to abstain from the Celestial Dollar coffee forever more (although, of course, you won’t, because it’s ubiquitous and can be obtained in any location, regardless of where your travels take you). My husband likes the cappucino here, and did not make fun of me for driving a bit out of the way while running errands the other day to grab coffee at LBM, so, you know, it must be pretty good.

If you are not just grabbing coffee while running errands, you can sit down on a bar stool overlooking the street, or grab a small table in the elegant shoppe. I have no idea whether or not the decor feels Parisian, having not yet been to Paris, but it does feel simple, clean, and elegant, and I feel a small thrill when I walk through the door.

#sopretty

Each week, the shoppe offers a “drink of the week,” a recommended coffee drink that, if purchased, includes a macaron. So if the drink sounds like one you would enjoy, I certainly recommend taking advantage of that offer (although if it sounds like one you really do not think you will enjoy, I think you should listen to your instincts, because there’s definitely a difference between expanding your horizons and torturing yourself).

Seriously – look at how cute this cup is. How could you NOT want to go here, if you’re in AA?

If you go, or have gone, to Le Bon Macaron, let me know what drink and/or macaron you had, and if your visit was as enjoyable as mine have been. Bon Appetit!

I completely respect any decision(s) to purchase from local, independent stores instead of Amazon. If, however, you were planning to make purchases through Amazon already anyway, please consider using one of the affiliate links below (As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases):