So, here's *my* list of the ten books I enjoyed best this year. See how that's not as snazzy a blog title?
In no particular order:
These are the ten best books *I read* in 2014. Not all of them were released in 2014. But really, who restricts their reading only to the year books are released? Missed The Poisonwood Bible back in '98? Too bad! You better finish up The Emperor Waltz, misogynistic though it is, then move on to something you actually want to read.
So, here's *my* list of the ten books I enjoyed best this year. See how that's not as snazzy a blog title?
In no particular order:
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We had to tell our daughter
The Big Secret.
A swift catalogue of Rockwell-esque memories flashed through my head: my mom calling “Santa” when I glared at my peas; the Space Needle’s red blinking light becoming Rudolf’s nose; nestling all snug in my bed listening intently for reindeer hooves; the empty cookie plate and drained glass of nog; willfully disregarding Santa’s handwriting being exactly. the. same. as my mom’s. The list, like Santa’s, goes on and on. There’d be no Santa bribing, no hiding elves on shelves, no racing to bed on Christmas Eve, no Miracle’s on 34th Street, or 26th Street, as the case may be. No…magic.
But what price my little girl's sanity?
So we pulled the plug. Opened the can of cranberries. Let the cat out of the stocking. It involved this hopelessly boring video, that really did not need to be made. Who doesn't know how to dress like Santa? What rock do you live under in which you don't know what Santa looks like, but have access to YouTube?
Anyhow, now she’s in on the big hush-hush – and has been admonished to Tell No One.
But it still makes me sad. Part of childhood is wonder and discovery and adventure and believing in things we grown ups are too boring to ponder let alone be charmed by. Have we taken that from her – taken away part of her imagination? Her fantasy?
Last year, she got one look at the Santa whose knee she was supposed to sit primly upon, and promptly applied herself to my leg like Kate Winslet on a floating door. She wailed. We cajoled. We now have a picture of her clinging to my neck while I sit on said Santa’s knee in jeans and unwashed hair with my husband looking drunk behind us all. Santa looks like he’s hoping for time and a half.
We chalked it up to being That Year with That Photo which we will someday show her fiancé as she glares at us with betrayal and vengeance. Yet here she was, a year later, my sweet little girl, shaking, tears pooling in her big Susie Loo Who eyes. Not in front of Santa himself, but by just looking at last year’s picture of her - er, us - with Santa. And while we have a “therapy jar” along with her college savings fund, I did not want her to have post-traumatic-stress about Christmas. Because, much to the chagrin of the Grinch, one cannot hide from Christmas.
Cut to last week, driving to preschool. Ex nihilo, she says, “Mommy, don’t tell me mermaids don’t exist because I want to believe in them.”
That’s all I needed to hear. Too bad mermaids don’t have a holiday. But maybe we could make one… I see lots of water on the hardwood floor and more money in the therapy jar.
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So Kate Middleton, wife of the next King of England and mother to the heir, is pregnant with her second child, or "The Spare." My second book in The Realm series, God & King, about royals needing heirs to secure the throne, published this week. Coincidence? You decide.
Last spring, HRH FaceTimed me, because she's nothing if not frugal. She was all, “Hey J- Spoh.” That’s what she calls me, “J-Spoh.” It’s kind of our thing.
And I’m all, “Hey Your Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, Countess of Strathearn and Lady Carrickfergus.” Or just D-Cam for short. Everyone else calls her Kate, but D-Cam, that’s kind of our thing.
And she’s like, “So, Wills and are planning a little “Royal We” time this summer. Or should I say “Royal Weeee! time?” We laugh. She's way in to puns.
“That’s great, D-Cam. Gettin' yourself that heir and spare, ay?”
“See, that’s why you are so clever naming your first book that.”
“I strive to be one of the sharper butter knives..."
She ignores my stab at humility. “Anyhow, I just wanted to give you a heads start on God & King while people watch my baby bump and honking episodes (that's throwing up for all you Yanks) with bated breath and flashbulbs. Besides, I need something to read when I’m nursing.”
And I'm all like, “Thanks, D-cam-cam. Actually, I'm already working on God & King because you liked Heirs & Spares so much. I’ve even written the last third of Crown & Thorns, the final book in the series. Just a happy accident that it corresponds with your rantum-scantum sched.”
"Oh, J-Spoh, don't be so saucy!" And she’s all smiley and flips her perfectly waved, silky hair behind one shoulder. I’m too polite to tell her there is some baby George spit up on her cashmere loungewear. Probably organic, Kensington Garden gently pressed peas.
“Well, I just can’t wait to read more about Troixden - or fake England - ha-ha! Your voice is so captivating, dialogue so witty and characters so full of life! I feel like the fate of my own marriage hinges on that of William and Annelore!”
"Wow, thanks Cam-a-lamma-cam-cam. I couldn't have said it better myself."
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If you're like me, you like to get the shivers every once in awhile, and no time like All Hallow's Eve to get your scare on. And seeing as it's a weekend night this year, why not do a double feature of freaky?
I'm not into the slasher film, but if you do ghosts, vampires and zombies, I've got you covered. So put the kids to bed, heat up some mulled cider, break out the leftover mini-candy. Did I miss your favorite? Add to the list in the comments section!
I Vant to Zuck your Blood...
Aim for the head...
Honorable Mention: These didn't fit nicely in any category, but they're delightfully spine tingling regardless.
Forget the IPhone 6. The newest from Apple? Egg freezing! And Facebook’s doing it too, in what is being hailed as the “employee perks arms race” of the tech world.
But you know what it sounds like to me?
A hollow, patronizing gesture akin to Kobe Bryant giving his wife a $4 million ring during his “alleged” rape trial. While diamonds are supposedly a girl’s best friend, his (now ex) wife would probably have preferred the gift of keeping his privates in his pants.
Yes, I am comparing egg freezing to “oops I got caught” adultery gifts. But please, people, before you write me angry emails about the struggles of infertility, I’m only suggesting the comparison in the context of a company being clueless about what might actually be helpful to their employees. Not to mention less creepy.
Freezing eggs costs a lot of money, about $10,000 for the procedure and around $100 a month to maintain the egg-cubes.
Quite the magnanimous gift.
And yet, what message is this sending? How about this one: “We’re gonna need you to put anything in your life outside your job on hold indefinitely. You can have babies when you’re retired how ‘bout? Aren’t we such an awesome, forward thinking place!” Pat back. Trot out female CEO. More back-patting.
Forget for a moment that simply freezing one’s eggs does not guarantee a baby in the future. Our wombs age, our partner’s sperm age, thin, swim slower; we are at higher risk for complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, low birth weight, chromosomal abnormalities and still birth, all of which make simply “putting off” having a baby more complicated, and life threatening, than passing up a promotion.
So how about Apple and Facebook take the apparent surplus of funds they have to shower upon their most humble and grateful employees, and do something that will actually keep the majority of those women who wish to become mothers employed? For instance, steal an idea from Starbucks and put a top-notch day-care facility in their building. Or take a page from Google and give five months paid maternity leave.
And check out France, who has some of the highest rates of fertility and, wait for it, employment rates for women, in the world. France mandates women receive full pay for sixteen weeks (even longer for a second or third child), they have free daycare/preschools and provide generous stipends for in home child care.
It’s not just about making it easier for women to continue to work and raise a family. Studies have shown that, in countries with longer parental leave, life expectancy was also longer. Not to mention the anecdotal decreases of stress and increase of productivity if one knows their children are well cared for and their job secure, even if the babysitter calls in sick, a kid breaks an arm, or it’s an early release day…again.
These options would be significantly cheaper for Apple and Facebook than paying for their female employees to freeze their eggs. On the other hand, I would wager Apple and Facebook are counting on very few of their paltry number of female employees to take them up on this eggsicle idea. Hence, making a real effort to attract and keep women (and some men, mind) is not deemed worth their effort or their money. They’d rather look magnanimous and “cutting edge” in the press, than take the real barriers for women in the workplace seriously.
But here’s the hitch. When Facebook and Apple employ people in places like France, they are required to follow the laws of that land. In other words, French Apple employees receive the French mandated benefits. Certainly the government pays the childcare subsidies, but Apple must pay its employees – up to thirty-four weeks - for maternity leave.
They do it there, why not here? Because they don't have to.
They can just following the abysmal family leave laws of the U. S. government, which allow for no paid leave and twelve weeks unpaid, but only for women who have worked at a company of more than fifty employees for a year, equating to only one-fifth of new mothers qualifying for leave. Our country, home of the free and the brave, is one of only three countries in the world to leave new moms in the lurch. In case you are wondering, those two other countries are Oman, which is run by a Sultan and follows strictly to sharia law, and Papua New Guinea, where a large portion of the population is illiterate and on one of its islands, 41% of men report raping a women. How’s that for company?
Look, I get that corporations are not social service organizations and are under no obligation to provide any benefits outside of what is legislated by our government. But when our richest, hippest companies can’t even set an example, as so many claim the "free market" should do, then what does that say about us as a people, as a nation? Apparently this: Kobe Bryant for president, 2016.
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I have been waiting nearly a year to post this. I have barely been able to contain myself.
Yes, I am that much of a book dork.
Ready for some more dork? Generally I follow a fiction liturgy if you will, matching the type of book to the time of year —it's what spawned my "Books for all Seasons" posts— but last January, when I should have been picking up a dense classic, probably by a Russian, I could not help digging in to John Boyne's pitch-perfect gothic ghost story, This House is Haunted. I mean, c'mon, the cover alone is irresistible. Plus, I'm researching ghosts for my own book. So stop judging me, man.
As with most good ghost stories, it's set in the mid-1800's in a middle of no-where English manor, aptly named Gaudlin Hall. Eliza, young, single, and stubborn in the face of fear, has taken a post as a governess (duh), for two small, precociously adorable children (double-duh) and arrives to find said children basically fending for themselves...quite well thank you very much.
There is the stock list of creepy characters: the strangely absent employer, the tight-lipped cook, the solicitor. And of course, the ghost. Or are there more than one? Mwaaa-ha-ha-haaaaa.
Forgetting for a moment Boyne's luminous writing, his Dickensonian voice, and his delicious descriptions, what hooked me on this book was Eliza's first night at Gaudlin Hall. Let me just say it involves drifting off to sleep only to find one's ankles being grabbed. Through the bed.
Excuse me while I change my bloomers.
Yes it's very Turn of the Screw meets Jane Eyre. But it's how Boyne uses these archetypes to mold his own tale of terror that keeps one up at night, not just quaking, but also devouring each page.
Boyne's most well-known book is The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas, and he writes for both the young adult and adult market.
Since reading This House is Haunted, Boyne has become one of my most beloved historical fiction authors. And, he's Irish. Which gives him cred just because.
I've plowed through The House of Special Purpose, Next of Kin so far and, once the dust of my literary liturgy settles next spring, I'll be curled up with his newest, A History of Loneliness (Spring 2015 US, available now in the UK). Let's read it together, shall we? Don't worry, I'll remind you. (Read, harass you almost as much as I harass you about reading my books because I friggin' love this guy if you haven't figured that out already.)
Until then, get your jolly good Halloween spook on with This House is Haunted.
And invest in some night lights.
Much to my chagrin, I was neither nominated for an Oscar, nor for President of the United States. Pouring ice on my head will have to do.
Oh and, by the way, anybody friends with Gerard Butler, Idina Menzel or George R. R. Martin? Sadly, neither am I.
And CONGRATS go out to Sara from the Stuck In A Story fame, for naming the griffin on the cover of God & King! She gets an e-review copy!
He's officially named Gadiel. And he sounds like a mix between Morgan Freeman & Sean Connery. Because I'm sure you were wondering.
When someone famous dies, it somehow seems everyone wants in on the action. As if to say, "look at how sad I am about his death," contorting for one last time that celebrity's personal life into something that is our business, our personal right to own and frame.
And thus I hesitate to write this post, as Robin William's death is not about me. And yet, his death has brought to light a much needed deeper discussion on depression. Which is about me. In the sense that I have depression.
Technically it's postpartum depression, but certainly there's some sort of statute of limitations on tacking on the postpartum bit. I mean, three years? C'mon. But somehow, saying "postpartum depression" get's me out of the "officially bonkers" category, like, "oh, it'll pass, it's just postpartum," the phrase silently mocking me like my pair of size 8 jeans. The only pair, mind you, that my toosh looks any good in. "Oh, that's just my postpartum flab, it'll pass. Speaking of passing, please pass the twice-baked almond croissants."
And so, as with my baby gut, my depression lingers. But my need to caveat it with adjectives is where I think the problem lies.
As a culture, we treat depression like it's just some type of bad mood or blip in hormones -something controllable with enough ice cream and rom-coms. People "struggle" with depression. Kind of like how people "struggle" with putting on Spanx. Or "struggle" with getting their kids to sleep.
But I'm here to tell you, one doesn't "struggle" with depression any more than one "struggles" with appendicitis. Certainly, as with most health conditions, there are ways to help alleviate some of the symptoms through lifestyle choice, but the underlying disease is still there.
And, since our culture has decided that depression is merely a struggle, implying one can just get over their sad-sack selves with a little gumption, chocolate and giggles, those of us with depression shy away from admitting our frailty. We try to laugh it off as a bad hair day or the all purpose standby, "stress."
But the countless deaths caused by depression, Mr. Williams' included, scream out for our culture to put away our judgement, our embarrassment, our polite dismissing.
Yet all the same, I cringe under the idea that people would think there is something wrong with me - especially my mind. My self concept is of a competent, intelligent, hopefully witty person who may be a bit of a mess around the edges and stick her foot in her mouth so often her taste buds are rubberized, but ultimately has her s*%# together.
And outing myself as depressed risks crushing my self concept. It risks admitting to friends and strangers alike that I have to be medicated to function. Well, to function without forcing my children to fend for themselves in the wilderness with nothing but gortex, some sticks and whining to save them, while I hide under my comforter binge watching British period dramas.
To say this out loud feels like I'm admitting failure as a human being. I gather many with mental illness feel this way. If I had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, that too might be embarrassing and I'd hesitate to ever mention the word "bathroom" in mixed company, but it wouldn't mean I was somehow defective, somehow unable to cope with being alive. And I don't even have severe depression. I just get sad and angry for "no reason" - never suicidal. Escapist, yes, suicidal, no.
A lot of people are wondering how someone who was as funny as Williams could be clinically depressed. I'm guessing, among other things, his humor was a way he coped. I'm an extrovert, generally lively in social settings. I often speak, perform and do podcasts. I'm very good at my public personna. Rare is the person who sees the ugly underbelly. And yet, perhaps like Williams, all that extroversion, all that public performing, helps me. It takes me away from my spiraling inner world for awhile (well, that and Zoloft). It helps me focus on the joy of others. I need the life, the light, the laughter of others - I feed off it. And so to them, I look healthy. But that's because when we don't laugh, we die. And sometimes we die regardless.
So I think it's time we all decided there is no shame in depression. No failure in needing to take medicine or other measures to feel alive again. It's time for those of us with depression to let go of the self-imposed prison, and time for those who lack the "struggle" to lend an ear and a smile and still see a full person. Time to stop viewing those with mental illness as lessor, and perhaps start recognizing that those who struggle have a lot to teach the rest of us about living a life worth the effort. And I'll start with me.
You came up with some pretty great names, folks, but in the interest of narrowing, I picked just the G's, 'cause alliteration and all.
So vote away! Winner gets an e-copy of God & King. And yes, I am all about tactics here, like harassing your friends and family to vote for the name you came up with.
Most votes by Sunday wins!
With many thanks again to the crazy talented Kelly Leslie, it's finally here: the blood red cover of God & King!
You say "gryphon I say "griffin," but however you spell it, I think he's pretty darn fantabulous all stepping on a sword and clutching a cross with his talons saying, "Yeah, I'm a mythical beast, but I can take you twenty times to next Tuesday, pipsqueak."
But what will his name be?
Well, you tell me, and win!
Make sure to sign up for my newsletter (if you're not already), then put your name suggestion below. The winning name gets a FREE electronic ARC of God & King!
And yeah, no, he won't be named Bob. You can come stronger than that people.