Books I Read in 2014

Here are the books I’ve read all the way through and it includes some I read, more like studied, for work. Books I gave up reading are not listed.

  1. Messenger (3 of 4) in The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
    [ Though it was a shorter book compared to the first two, it was more powerful. As I read it, I couldn’t help but reflect on the current state of things on Earth. ]
  2. Gathering Blue (2 of 4) in The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
    [ Lowry doesn’t need big action scene to keep you reading, my concern for the main character rushed me to get to the next page. Her stories are powered by her intention to show us how we may choose to live. ]
  3. The Giver (1 of 4) in The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry
    [ This is a book that requires your full attention, otherwise you’d lost the subtle and thoughtful messages. An image of a full restaurant full of screen-backlight-lit faces comes to mind. ]
  4. An Instrument of Slaughter: (Home Front Detectives) by Edward Marston
    [ I did not like this as much as Five Dead Canaries (newer in this series). For some reason it seems more wordy than I’d like but my schedule was pretty full… ]
  5. Days of Rage (Pike Logan Thriller) by Brad Taylor
    [ It still amazes me how Brad could thread so many different things together to tell a complete story. ]
  6. The Night Searchers (A Sharon McCone Mystery) by Marcia Muller
    [ McCone is the one series that I have not gotten tired of. My writing skill seems to improve every time I read her book. ]
  7. The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson
    [ Like the friendship between the two detectives, appreciates the absent of overly graphic scenes. Interesting Sci-Fi idea. ]
  8. Monster’s Chef: A Novel by Jervey Tervalon
    [ The characters in the book are confused but the author is not. I did not like the craziness in them but still wanted to know how the hero got out of it. Quick and interesting read. ]
  9. Five Dead Canaries (Home Front Detectives) by Edward Marston
    [ Plenty of twists and turns. Love learning about WWI England via the people and places in the book. Did not like the choice of the murderer, seemed out of the blue somehow. ]
  10. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King.
    [ The short stories here are dark, as title had promised. Too dark for me. The writing is great though. ]
  11. I Think I Love You by Stephanie Bond
    [ Great read! Well built, interesting characters and their relationships. Well threaded clues, real and false, with twists that kept me turning the pages. A romance mystery that will stay with you for a while after you put it down. ]
  12. Wired by Douglas E. Richards
    [ Love the bio-engeering base plot, interesting characters. Though I’m still a newbie writer, I noticed my reading was interrupted by uses of adverbs and other writing issues. ]
  13. After Life by Rhian Ellis
    [ Though I didn’t like the moodiness of the characters, I was still drawn to get to the end–sign of a skilled writer! ]
  14. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley
    [ I’ve read every book in the series and it’s getting even better. Flavia intrigued me when she, at age 11, plotted to poison her sisters using her self-tought chemistry skills. ]
  15. Cathedral of Dreams by Terry Persun
    [ Can’t seem to get into it, not a reflection to the writing, may just not be the book for me. ]
  16. Hollow City (2nd in the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series) by Ransom Riggs
    [ The children risk everything to save their caretaker while avoiding WWII bomings and their own hunters. Even better than the 1st book. ]
  17. The Polaris Protocol (Pike Logan Thriller) by Brad Taylor
    [ Still amazed by Brad’s skill in threading so many things into one satisfying ending. ]
  18. The time keeper by Mitch Albom
    [ Only literary fiction I’ve ever finished, simple words, deep meaning. ]
  19. Don’t make me think by Steve Krug
    [ Work–designing web sites for the best user experience. ]
  20. Miss Peregrine’s home for peculiar children (1st in the series) by Ransom Riggs
    [ Fantasy in WWII setting, no flat characters here! ]
  21. The widow’s strike (Pike Logan Thriller) by Brad Taylor
    [ Love every book in the series, first read for character research. ]
  22. The marriage trap by Jennifer Probst
    [ Romance, warm, funny, moving, read for stress relief. ]
  23. The burglar in the library (Bernie Rhodenbarr Mysteries) by Lawrence Block
    [ Funny with interesting heros. ]
  24. Crashed (Junior Bender Mystery) by Timothy Hallinan
    [ Junior Bender is a thief AND a good guy?!}

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen KingA friend recommended On Writing by Stephen King after I shared my challenge with plotting out the rest of my first book. Though I never read any of his books, I know he must be pretty good to keep his readers asking for more.

He shared two things that surprised me the most.

He is a slow reader

Since English is not my first language, I’ve always thought being a slow reader is one of the main reason why I may not ever be a good writer. I guess he just kicked the crutch I’ve been using to drag myself down.

He reads for the fun

Almost all the writing books tell me to “study” other books for the plot structures or the writing techniques. Something I could never do. If the book is good, I just want to read it, If the book is uninteresting, I’d stop to save myself time for work or another book. It’s good to know Stephen King, a great writer, reads for fun, too.

Some reviewers of this book did not like that Stephen spent good part of the book on his life journey to be the writer he is today, instead of going straight into the how-to-write part. I thought it is good to remind people to look further back than his successful career.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin SloanMr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan has made my list of books I’ll always remember. As a person who believes nothing happen by accident, this is “the right book exactly, at exactly the right time”.

The Right Book

As if Robin had written this book for me. I went to art school; I do graphic and web design; I hack code to appease the Google engine god; I love old books; I admire type designers; I live in harmony with the old and the new.

Clay, the hero, bumped into his new job at a mysterious bookstore. I mysterious fell into the writing world, which requires me to read a lot, which led me to this book.

The Right Time

Just when I question if there is a place for my current project, a sci-fi, fantasy, clean story set in the near future, this book landed in my hands.

This is the prefect example of a writer putting everything he ever learned into his writing and fusing only the necessary elements to create an enchanted world. A fest I hope to conquer as well.

To Robin

It’s incredible how you managed to weave an old fashion quest in with the technologies of today. And it felt like that is the way it’s suppose to be all along.

I’ll always remember Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore because with a few more brain cells and a few less years, I might have been the night clark at the tall and narrow bookstore.

Into A Special Forces Character

As I was coming up with an idea for a story, I paired the lead female with a military man with a lost soul. But I didn’t want him to be the typical mentally unstable person, I wanted him to be someone who is aware enough to be on a search for the meaning of his existence.

The thought of a soldier with skills and characters brought me to the world of Special Forces. My knowledge about it came from TV and movies, obviously a crash course is needed.

Since I had no interest in anything war related (though I do admire people in the forces), I started with short romance stories about special ops fighters. I did enjoy the stories but those didn’t show me how these special soldier are made or what traits would get them selected and trained.

One Rough Man by Brad TaylorThen I found One Rough Man by Brad Taylor. The hero, Pike Logan, is a man with characters and brain.

He, too, like the lead male in my story, was lost for a while after he lost his wife and daughter. I see in Pike, someone who is physically agile and mentally flexible, coming up with ideas when all seems impossible. Though he usually has a plan to begin with. That tells me, he is smart, smart enough to never become arrogant.

Inside Delta Force by Eric HaneyAs I was reading that, I picked up Inside Delta Force by Eric L. Haney. Being one of the first Delta Force members, he described through his own experience how an Delta operator is selected and train. He told his story with great skill of words, I learned that it also takes someone with wisdom and unusual presence of mind to become a Delta operator. I think I would have enjoyed Pike Logan’s story much more if I had finished this first.

One other thing. I realized I usually read books by female writers. Reading these books is helping me finding the voice of the hero in my story. Can’t have a special force guy sounding like a girl, can we?

The character is still taking shape in my mind but I’m sure he would be someone I can trust, love, and admire, whatever imperfections he might have.

The Agency 3: The Traitor in the Tunnel by YS Lee

The Agency 3: The Traitor in the Tunnel by YS LeeDid you know New York and San Francisco are not the only cities with Chinese populations in 19 century? If I didn’t read The Agency trilogy, I’d never know there were sailors in London during the Victorian Era.

It was a time when being a Chinese is not a good thing, being Chinese, Irish and parent-less made it impossible for the main character Mary Quinn to survive. But with help from two amazing ladies she was saved and thrived.

YS Lee not only gave us a view of the upstair/downstair at the time, she gave us powerful and smart female characters who find ways to use their disadvantage into something incredible.

I like the series not only because the idea is original, YS Lee writes only what’s needed, I was never tempted to skip a paragraph. This is what I value the most as a person who reads as a writer.

The last Agency book not only sped up the pace compare to the previous two volumes, it shows how Mary finally came into her own after what she went through in the book. Mary like everyone could have choose to sink into darkness but she choose to not only stay strong, she wants to live doing what she love to do.

We all do, as Mary, have choices, it all depends on what you decide to see.

Although The Agency series has ended, I hope to follow Mary into her new phase of life which I’m sure will still be a thrill a minute.

Tell Me. What Could He Be Thinking?

What could he be thinking? by Michael GurianThough part of writing a romance novel is to create fantasy, I still want the male lead to be someone we might know in real life. In my pursuit of understanding men (much easier to accept as a writer, not a girlfriend/wife), I read No More Mr. Nice Guy! and found examples of men who are not yet ready for a healthy relationships.

In What Could He Be Thinking? by Michael Gurian, he opened my eyes to things men do that seem strange and sometimes even illogical to women. Here are a few things that jumped out at me.

A marriage ends when both:

  1. lost their compassion for the other’s pain
  2. no longer have the knowledge of the other’s nature

That is sad to me because 1 tells me that they no longer to care for each other and 2 tells me they are married to a stranger. How did any couples get to this point from being close enough to get married? I cringe at the thought of it.

A man feels by DOING.

I guess that’s why they try to fix women’s problems instead of listening. The author suggests for the ladies to have a group of girlfriends to talk things out. This makes total sense to me. I think most women would appreciate a man who takes action than the one who doesn’t. Besides, by talking his ears off, he might not hear your request for him to jump into action for your sake.

Male Mode of Feeling

  • Delayed emotion reaction.

    Years ago, I asked my then boyfriend a serious question, he didn’t react. I thought he was ignoring me. After a few days, he answered and explained he needed time to consider his response because he didn’t want to take it lightly. So, I’d say this is true. Give him time to think is a really good tip.

  • Respond to emotion by being physical.

    When he’s emotional, he might go for a run, take a drive, or can’t stay put.

  • Masking emotion while processing emotion.
    • leave me along – needing time to recover
    • let’s fight – become dominating
    • it’s nothing to worry about – recalling amplifies the hurt. This should go for women as well. If all we do is retelling the same issue and not making any changes, what we are doing is the carving a deep groove into the pain we already feel. And still no actual improvement in the end.

I’m only half way through the book but I am already a bit more confident in writing more complete male characters.

No More Mr. Nice Guy!

No More Mr. Nice Guy! by Dr. Robert A. GloverA character has just arrived on the scene in a story I’m writing. He seems like a all around good guy who is liked by both men and woman. In a conversation with the leading lady, he reveals that he, as he is now, didn’t come easy. He was a Mr. Nice Guy who never says no to his girlfriends but they left him anyway.

I had to stop writing at that point. What is it about him that he allowed himself to be treated that way?

A friend mentioned the possibility of childhood trauma and suggested that he only got better after finding a new hobby or sport to develop his self-confidence. While I agree with his view, I needed to learn more about Mr. Nice Guy before I can complete the backstory of this character.

No More Mr. Nice Guy! by Dr. Robert A. Glover explained the making of a Mr. Nice Guy.

As it turned out, Mr. Nice Guys do and say nice things with strings attached, however unconscious their actions may be. They never voice their needs or wants, thinking that’s a sign of weakness. Mr. Nice Guy lives in a fantasy that by doing everything “right”, their life will be problem free and his needs will magically be fulfilled. Then he suggested ways to transform from being a Mr. Nice Guy to being a Mr. Real Guy.

The funny thing is, I can see a bit of myself in Mr. Nice Guy as well.

I’ve always pride myself as a “low maintenance” woman. Now I know I’m also a Mr. Nice Guy. We think having a need makes us bad. So, while we appear to have no needs, we were only denying that part of ourselves. It’s ironic that this behavior also kills the opportunity to receive love and kindness from others.

As I read on, I found more traits that I share with Mr. Nice Guy.

  1. Avoid new situations / Stay with the familiar
  2. Give what I want to give instead what’s needed
  3. Try harder to fix an old issue but use the same ineffective method (which Einstein defined as insanity, how fitting!)

I am pretty sure I’ve grown enough to repeat that last two patterns. Now I just need the courage to move away from my comfort zone.

No More Mr. Nice Guy! not only helped me create a character who had “lived”, I also gain some insight into my own unhealthy thinking and belief.

So to all the Mr. Nice Guy and Miss. Nice Gal, accept your imperfect self and you shall prosper!

The Reluctant Metrosexual

the reluctant metrosexual by Peter HymanWhile browsing in the Men-Psychology section on the library shelf to research for a story I’m writing, I found The Reluctant Metrosexual by Peter Hyman.

I pulled it off because I was curious to see if a metrosexual man thinks like the fashion challenged men. I read the first few pages and found his writing funny. Of course the situation he was in was already weird but I don’t think anyone can paint the picture as well as he did.

In the chapter about being unemployed and attached to a successful woman, he wrote about his mistake and about being “a typical man” by doing hair brain things to deplete her love and support. Here is my favorite quote in this chapter:

… you realize that you are now poor, jobless, and heartbroken (three states of being that, taken together, create a Doppler effect known as the “Triple Crown of Unemployment Loserhood”).

According to his web site, he is married with children now. He must have learned from his mistakes. I can’t wait to read about what other painful lessons he had to endure before he won the heart of his wife.

A Design for Creativity

creative juicer hand stitched notebooksMy last post on the book 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman was on happiness. This time I was inspired by the chapter on creativity.

For this notebook called, the creative juicer, I combined two of his suggestions.

Using the color green and a repetitive pattern with one altered element. Both have been scientifically proven to increase creativity.

So, I made these to take with me everywhere. And whenever I need to get my creative juice pumping, all I have to do is first think of the problem at hand then glance at the front cover of my Creative Juicer.

Vuala! That’s all it takes.

Like to have your very own creative juicer? Leave me a note and I’ll be in touch.

59 Seconds to Happiness!

59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a LotWhy doesn’t positive thinking ever work for me? Something wrong with me? As it turned out, Richard Wiseman, the author of 59 Seconds, by research results that positive thinking doesn’t work.

But why? Let’s try something, trust me it wont’ hurt.
Don’t think of the pink elephant.

Are you NOT thinking of the pink elephant? Of course you are. That’s why suppressing negative thoughts doesn’t work. You see, for us to NOT DO something, we first have to FOCUS on the something for us to not do. There is no way our minds can get away from it.

So, what can I do to be happy? Prof. Wiseman provides the solutions in the “Happiness” chapter of 59 Seconds.

One suggestion is to behave like a happy person, then the happiness will come — smile (thinking happy thoughts helps); sit-up; act happy (walk/talk like a happy person). Wow, who knew pretending to be happy can make us happy!

The 5-day journaling method is my favorite, being a writer and all. Each day, he gives you something to write about. You only need to write for 59 seconds but I just wrote until I felt like stopping. He says the happiness will last a few months and it does!

Before my first entry on 7/25/11, I was frustrated with myself and how things in my life just won’t move forward. Now, almost 2 months later, the frustration hasn’t returned, even though things are still moving in a leisurely pace.

59 Seconds to Happiness? Yes, it can happen!