Saturday, January 15, 2022

Five Favorite Fight Scenes in Film

I like violence…well, in my fiction. 

In real life, I like things nice and tame, non-life-threatening, and calm. But in books, media, and maybe especially movies, I love a good fight. 

Now, what makes a good fight? That can be hard to define, and is definitely all about one's personal tastes. 

Myself, I like what I term "creative" fights. By this I mean, fights that surprise and delight me by unusual moves, out-of-the-box choreography, and use of interesting props or settings. 

So here are five fairly recent favorites. I hope you enjoy. 

Bus fight in Shang-chi

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) had LOTS of fight scenes, as one would expect in a a Marvel superhero story about a young man with a mystical origin and epic fighting skills. For me, the big set-piece fight at the end with all the monsters was the least interesting fight in the film. I felt the stakes much more strongly in this moment, when Shang-Chi has to choose to reveal his single biggest secret to save his best friend (and all the other people on the bus). 

I love a good close-quarters fight, which the bus definitely delivered. I loved the nod to Jackie Chan with the "my own jacket is a weapon" move. Awkwafina's performance as Katy really gave the viewer an "in" to the moment as well: her shock, how impressed she became, and her willingness to jump into the fray herself and exhibit some really impressive driving skills. 

Speaking of Jackie Chan: Rumble in the Bronx (1995), punks' hideout fight

This was the first Jackie Chan movie I ever saw, so it has a special place in my heart. Of course, the most awesome thing about watching a Jackie Chan fight is knowing that the man is actually doing everything you see. In this scene, it's the way that everything became a part of the fight: pool table, chair, refrigerators, skis, televisions, even a grocery cart. If you watch the flick, make sure you check out the end blooper scenes. It's amazing to think he filmed parts of that film with a broken foot. 

Speaking of cool props, how about the umbrella fight in the pub in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)?

The charm of this scene is in the unexpectedness of it, that this very calm and collected, polished and posh British man would fight so capably. It certainly surprised everyone else in the room. The umbrella was cool even before it's extra elements (like built-in projectiles and bulletproof cloth) were revealed. I also appreciate that the one fighter versus several attackers trope came across more believably. The bad guys didn't just take turns for no reason--they were surprised, or temporarily decommissioned and jumped back into the fight the second they could. 

Speaking of one fighter against many, how about Black Widow's chair fight in The Avengers (2012)? 

Like the scene in Kingsman, reversal of expectations is everything in this scene. Natasha looks helpless, tied to a chair in her evening wear, but of course, she is anything but. A skilled fighter turn a seeming disadvantage into a weapon made for some fun choreography, and Natasha made short work of the group of men who thought they were winning that interrogation. 

I'll finish with the rollerskating chase/fight scene from Birds of Prey (2020): 

You'd think a woman on roller skates would be no match for a car, but when that woman is Harley Quinn? All bets are off. That basic premise allowed for such marvelous athleticism and unexpected movement. That same creativity came into play in the big group fight at the amusement park. 

I can only hope that if my Menopausal Superhero series ever makes it to the screen, the fight scene coordinators come up with something as visual striking and wow-inducing as these filmmakers did. 

How about you? Are you a fan of creative fight scenes? What are some of your favorites? I'd love to hear about them in the comments! 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

IWSG: Regrets, I've Had a Few

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

This month's optional question: What's the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?

The awesome co-hosts for the January 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Olga Godim, Sandra Cox, Sarah Foster, and Chemist Ken! Be sure to check out their posts as well as the rest of the blog hop after you're finished here. 

image source
Wasted time. At least that's what it sometimes feels like. 

I played at writing all my life, but didn't take it seriously until I was getting ready to turn 42 and had an age-panic (Thanks to Douglas Adams who taught me that 42 was the answer to life, the universe, and everything) that made me finally commit to to a daily writing practice and to finishing things and submitting them. 

So now that I'm fifty, eight years into treating my writing with some respect, and six years into a career as a published writer (my first novel: Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel was first published in 2015), I look back at all the years that I only played with words and wonder what I might have created, if only I'd put in the work a little sooner. 

image source

It can be easy to fall into darkness, wondering what you missed out on because of the choices you made. Regret is insidious that way. 

But I also know that timing is everything. After all I first met the man I share with life with when he was seventeen and I was twenty, but we weren't right for each other then. When we re-met in our thirties? That was the right time for magic. 

Whenever we play the what-if time travel game, I always say that I wouldn't change anything. And mostly, I mean that. There have been unhappy times in my life, but those experiences are why I am who I am and part of the journey that brought me here. And here is pretty darn good. 

So all those years that I daydreamed, and traveled, and read, and stayed up late talking and even the time I spent crying and feeling worthless or angry or any number of other negative things…all of that fed my soul and made me who I am, and that's the heart of the stories I write now. 

So, maybe that time wasn't wasted after all. 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

My Year in Books, 2021

Each year, I set a goal of 52 books a year, averaging out to one a week. I usually beat that, and I did it again this year, finishing book #85 right before midnight last night: 

I read a huge variety of books (scroll to the bottom to see the covers for the whole set): nonfiction, literary fiction, horror, romance, science fiction, fantasy, women's fiction, mystery, holiday themed work, classics, young adult, children's, poetry, graphic novels, commentary (you can click on the links on the book titles to see my review for each one). 

Some on paper (six, mostly graphic novels), some on Kindle (about thirty), some on audiobook (about forty-nine). Those last two intermix, as I often buy a kindle edition AND an audiobook edition of a book and go back and forth between the two. 

According to Goodreads, I read 16,048 pages, with the shortest work (The Best Girls by Min Jin Lee) coming in at 18 pages and the longest (The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas) coming in at 1,276 pages. 

Classics: One of the great pleasures of my reading life is my First Monday Classics Book Club, which meets once a month on the first Monday to discuss a work of classic fiction. 2021 was rough going for keeping the group together, since our library closed during the pandemic and still hasn't fully reopened, but we met via video and then later outdoors, and finally in a small business's sitting area.

This year's reading list included The House Behind the Cedars by Charles W. Chesnutt, Kindred by Octavia Butler, The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley,  and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. 

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is our January pick, and I finished it a few days ago. 

On my own, separate of the club readings, I also read a few other books that might be considered "classics":  The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid, The Wharton Gothics by Edith Wharton, The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. 

image source
People often ask me about my classics reading habit. Older books are often dense, difficult, or suffer from antiquated attitudes that are cringe-inducing to read, which can make them problematic for some readers. 

For me, though, that's part of the appeal. Classic novels reveal as much about the eras they were written in and the authors who wrote them as they do about the stories and characters, giving me a wider historical understanding and a big-picture view of how attitudes on things like race, religion, and sexuality have changed over time. 

Plus, I just have this feeling that I "ought" to read these books. It makes me feel informed and like I understand the wider context of the literary world more fully. 

The very difficulty is part of the appeal, too. Completing some of these works feels like a trophy-worthy accomplishment. The Count of Monte Cristo was like that. 

Escapism: Like many readers, I was first drawn to books by the escapism. The chance to travel and explore without leaving my house, experience things I could never experience for real. That desire has never left me, and my reading list tends to lean heavily towards speculative fiction for that reason. I read some great ones this year (a few pictured below), including mystery, romance without speculative elements, ghostly romance, and 1980s nostalgia horror. 

Here lately, clever romances have gotten a larger amount of reading time. I have a need for happily ever afters, but also need the characters to be smart and good-hearted, so I can cheer them to get together and feel good when they do. My favorite find in this regard this year was Lucy Blue's Stella Hart Romantic Mystery series. Witty dialogue, a good balance of sexual heat and relationship building, a fun historical setting, and, oh yeah, some corpses. 

Thinkers: Some books give me a lot to think about. While it's good to just shut down my brain and go for a ride sometimes, I also enjoy a meatier book from time to time, one that tackles difficult themes and lingers in my consciousness long after I've finished it. I read a lot of great books of that sort this year. 

In my fact, my top three picks for best books I read this year fit this category. Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey, and Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell don't seem to have much in common on the surface, but they do all feature complicated, interesting heroines in difficult situations. All three also tackle BIG themes like racism, sexism, grief, and ethics. Which made all of them perfect books for me. Gorgeous prose and interesting settings didn't hurt a bit either :-)

I didn't even tell you about the great graphic novels and nonfiction that made my list this year, but if I go on much longer, this post will become a book of it's own, so I'll stop here, leaving you with the images of my reading list below. 

Did we share any reads this year? What makes your top few reads of the year? Did you read one of mine? I'd love to hear about your year in books in the comments. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

2021, huh?

So, that was weird. 2021, I mean. 

Time is always weird, of course. But it's gotten weirder lately. 

I was looking at a family picture today because Shutterfly sent it to me as a "remember this day" ad, and I do indeed remember the day very clearly. 

It's my mother's family, all of us except for one cousin and one aunt who couldn't come. It was a fundraiser my high school band was holding and we took the opportunity to get a family photo of ALL of us. The photographer had trouble getting us all in frame…maybe in part because we ranged in height from three foot to six and a half feet, or maybe because there were just so darn many of us. But it was a fun evening. We laughed so much, which is maybe why it's actually a pretty good picture with some genuine smiles in it. 

Two of my uncles, one of my aunts, and both of my grandparents are now gone, and I'm wondering how that can be, since I can remember this day so clearly, as if it were last week instead of three-going-on-four decades ago. 

2021 felt that way, too. As I write this, there's one more day in the year, and that doesn't seem right. 2021 never really felt like it started; it was more like 2020 just kept on going. So if 2021 never started, how can it be ending? 

So, I'm looking back at the year, because that's what we do at this time of year, right? Or maybe it's because I just read Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, a book about nostalgia, at least in part. Or maybe it's because one of the things I did in 2021 was turn 50, and that's what us middle-aged ladies do. I don't know. 

But here's my year that was: 

image source
I started 2021 teaching from home. My middle school had gone virtual starting in March 2020, like so many did. And we stayed that way until February 2021. 

It was a time of mixed blessings. I worried about my students, but was grateful for a way to keep teaching and still feel safe, in those pre-vaccine days. 

I had the best work-life balance I've ever had, and was really there for my family more completely than I've ever been able to manage before. Being home meant that my dog, O'Neill, who was losing a cancer battle, got to end his life with all of us at home to love him and care for him. 

I've always been a teacher who enjoys using tech tools to support my practice, but I became extra adept with learning management systems, video lesson presentation, and teaching via Zoom. Learning was different than it had been before, but it still happened, and some kids thrived on it. 

February-June 2021 were the hardest months of my teaching career (and I've been at this for 27 years in a variety of places and settings). I never considered quitting as often I did during the months where I did two jobs at the same time (as an online teacher and in-the-classroom teacher at the same time), under constant stress of uncertainty and threat of severe illness. Everyone who taught during this time should get double credit towards retirement. 

When the school year ended, everyone lost their minds panicking over "learning loss" (as if you only get one chance in life to learn 7th grade math concepts and the world will end if you didn't get it on the usual time table) and teachers were strong-armed, pressured, and bribed into working various summer programs. 

I knew how burnt-out I was, so I didn't take that work. I'm still glad I didn't, though the extra money would have been nice. Because when school started up in August, I hadn't recovered from the 2020-2021 school year yet. I was still crispy around the edges. It's rough to start a school year only a step away from burnt out. 

This school year has been strange in all new ways. So many people quit. So what felt like half the staff was new, and throughout these first four months (August-December 2021), lots more people have quit, taken early retirement, or suffered medical consequences that kept them out on leave. 

We had two teaching positions at my school that went unfilled until early December and were covered by long-term subs. Often, when a teacher was absent, there was no sub available to cover their classes, so safety precautions and policies were thrown the wind, putting two classes in together and giving up all possibility of social distancing, or taking non-teaching staff (librarians, counselors, teacher's aides, etc.) and taking them out of their own work to cover absent teachers. 

At least I work somewhere that is trying to find a balance between safety and learning. Some of colleagues have not been as fortunate. I'd have to quit if they didn't. But they have a vaccine mandate for staff, mask requirements for everyone, and keep us stocked in air filters and disinfectant spray. So far, I've stayed healthy, despite having one to five students a week who go on isolation or quarantine.   

I've found some joy with my students in person again, even with all the restrictions we have to work within, and most of them, now that they've seen what school is when it's not in-person, are cooperative and grateful and trying hard. But it's still challenging, given that kids disappear for days and weeks at a time and information sharing is sketchy, making it hard to know when to give grace and when to push for productivity (not that it's ever easy to know). 

I haven't quit yet, but I have submitted some resumes for non-teaching jobs. We'll see what happens in 2022. 

: I began 2021 with a big deadline: the fourth Menopausal Superhero Novel, Be the Change (which released on December 16, 2021), was due to my publisher on January 1, 2021. 

I missed that deadline, the first time I've missed a deadline in my writing life. I turned it in on February 1. Considering how screen-burnt I was in 2020 and how difficult it was to write during that time, I'm proud that I finished the book even CLOSE to on time. 

As soon as I turned it in, I turned my attention back to the Gothic Romance I've been working on these past two years (working title: The Architect and the Heir). I was hoping to finish it by the end of summer, before I had to put it aside to work on the fifth and final Menopausal Superheroes novel, due (under renegotiated deadline) in April 2022.

I didn't finish it in time. I've always been a slow writer, compared to many of my friends and colleagues, and that became a serious frustration in 2021. 

Now, as we finish the year, I've got 20,000 words in on that fifth (as yet untitled) novel. It's proving difficult to write. Since I intend it to the be the last, there's a lot I need to wrap up from the entire series, while still making sure the book has an individual story of its own. 

Because teaching life left me so crispy I'd be a hit at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I didn't have a burst of productivity in my writing life over the break like I usually do. I'm hoping that the rest I gave myself during these two weeks will allow me to begin seeing good progress again in January. 

Still, it was not a year to sneeze at for new words written: According to my writing tracker (I use Jamie Raintree's Writing and Revision Tracker and highly recommend it), I wrote 394,333 words in 2021 (on various projects) and revised 278,544 words. My daily writing chain is now eight years long. 

I had two short stories published in paying markets. "Poison" in Enchanted Conversation and "Boy Chick" in Apex & Abyss. I saw another novel through publication. It wasn't the kind of success that lets a girl quit her day job and write full time, but it wasn't bupkis either. 

image source
Getting Out Into the World: 
In 2020, I dug into life as a Hobbit, and came to appreciate going slower and being home. 

But in 2021, vaccinated and caffeinated, I ventured forth again, taking some opportunities for my writing life, and taking a couple of small trips. Not as many, and with more caution than before, but I got out there. 

In 2020, I attended one convention, MarsCon in January, before conventions started shutting down, cancelling, or even folding. After building up a schedule of appearances and events over the past few years, it was weird to suddenly stop doing that. 

Since my day job involved so much screen time, I wasn't thrilled about zoom events for my writing life, but I did a few. (Con-Tinual gave us all a chance to connect with readers that way, as did Strong Women, Strange Worlds. A pretty complete list of my video appearances can be found here.) Video appearances are easier in some ways--no travel, mitigates geographic distance, potential wider audience--but they are not the same as the energy of an in-person room and the kinds of connections made that way. 

In summer 2021, convention life opened up a bit again, and I attended Con-Carolinas, Con-Gregate, Galaxy Con, and a library Pop-Con. It was really good to see my writing friends again in person. I'd missed them terribly. I have become more cautious about my energy, though, and plan to do fewer conventions and more single-day events in 2022. 

I also managed a visit to Kentucky for my mother's birthday, and she and my dad managed a visit down here for mine. Sweetman took me on a trip to the mountains to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. My long-time writing critique group (which had moved to Zoom), began meeting in person again after we were all vaccinated, and we took a short retreat to Lake Gaston in the fall. 

The big trip was a visit to New York City in October, when Broadway re-opened. I had never been and really enjoyed my few days there, though it solidified my understanding of myself as a rural girl at heart. 

We ate lots of good food, saw iconic sights, and really enjoyed the production of Six: The Musical. We haven't had that many cool travel opportunities with our youngest child, so it was great to spoil them with this trip. 

Throughout it all, I continued to walk in the woods, finding stress relief and solace in walking among the trees. 

Starting in July, two new friends joined me for those walks, when we adopted two new rescue dogs: Ghost and Pumpkin. 

They are wildly different than O'Neill was, but they have brought a great deal of joy to our lives. 

Our holidays were quiet, but lovely and we took our time away from school and work restfully and gave ourselves time to recuperate and recharge. 

So, that's my year that was. Not bad for my fiftieth one on the planet. I hope 2021 brought you joy as well, and that 2022 will give us all more reasons to smile. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Finding my Holly Jolly This Year

 Normally, it's pretty easy for me to build up a head of steam and some excitement about Christmas. What's not to like? Pretty lights, time off of work with people and dogs I love, an excuse to spoil those people and dogs with gifts and food. It sounds lovely.

But when you're the mom of the family, it also sounds like a lot of work--those lights, gifts, and special moments don't happen without some preparation and planning and this year . . .well, I'm pretty darn crispy. 

image source

See, last school year, I worked two jobs at the same time because my school district decided that one teacher could teach both children physically in the room and children attending class from home via zoom at the same time, with no change in pay or other responsibilities. People left the profession in hoards. 

But I didn't. I'm back in the classroom this year, but I'm a shell of my self and struggle with energy and empathy exhaustion. 

I did my best to give myself recovery time. I didn't take any summer teaching work despite HUGE pressure to do so, and I kept my writing life low-commitment, too. But seven weeks off didn't do it, and I started the school year still burnt-out from last year. 

So, as holidays approached, my feeling about them was more exhausted-before-I began than excited. 

Chanukah helped. 

Years ago, we decided that instead of nightly gifts, we'd do nightly family activities, sitting by our candles and remembering what we do this for.  The eldest was able to join us for first and eighth night this year, quite a coup in her final year of college crazy-times. We baked, drew, listened to music, played games, and watched movies. One night though, we had to declare "introvert night" where we spent time ignoring one another and going to our separate corners. 

My latkes were perfect this year, and we started a new tradition of JFC (Japanese fried chicken). The prayers and candles still brought me a peaceful contentment. 

Then, we started making the shift into Christmas, and . . . I just wasn't feeling it. Even as I ticked things off my list in anticipation of all the good times (Christmas Eve pajamas, stocking stuffers, once-a-year treats), it felt like stress management more than joy. 

So I decided to turn to books to save me. Up until Christmas, I'm reading only holiday-themed books. Here's what I've read so far: a mix of nonfiction, classics, and romance. 

A Christmas Carol read by Tim Curry was perfection itself, and on a scale of zero to holly jolly, The Christmas Hirelings by Mary Elizabeth Braddon gave me all the right feels. The light romance approach of The Dreidel Spin made me feel like I'd just watched two deserving friends find one another, and the magic of food and kindness made the Moonglow books a delight. There are seven of those, and if I don't fit more of them in this year, I'll come back for them next Christmas. 

I'm in the middle of two more right now: 

A Christmas murder and some sweet morality tales. Quite a contrast.  Still in my Kindle are a few Christmas reads written by friends and colleagues as well that I'm hoping to read before the 25th arrives: 

I'm grateful that my winter break starts a few days ahead of Christmas this year, giving me time to sit by the fire reading and continuing to try to stoke the fire of my holiday spirit, so I can really enjoy the gifts the season brings. I'm grateful, too, that my family understands how tired and crispy I am and doesn't expect me to travel or host guests, but just to rest and recoup. 

Are there any stories or activities that help put you in the holiday spirit, even when your candles are burning low? Tell me about them in the comments! I'd love to know. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

IWSG: The Delight and Dismay of a Writing Life

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

This month's optional question: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?

The awesome co-hosts for the December 1 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando, Diane Burton, Louise – Fundy Blue, Natalie Aguirre, and Jacqui Murray! Be sure to check out what they have to say when you're finished here: 

Writing is central to who I am as a human, but it's really hard to explain to other people. From the outside, it definitely doesn't look like fun. I sit alone, wrestling with imaginary friends, giving myself anxiety and angst over fictional people, places, and situations…and I call this fun? 

Articulating the experience for outsiders feels impossible, and I end up shuffling my feet and looking uncomfortable. 

image source

Oddly enough, I think I like it because it's hard, so I guess I take delight in the dismaying part. Make of that what you will. 

Sure, it doesn't exactly feel good in the moments when you're struggling to straighten out a tangled plot or understand the secret motivations of a uncooperative character, but when you do it--when you come out on the other side victorious, it feels like you really *did* something. And even in the moments of struggle, part of me is enjoying it--the delving deeper, the striving to understand the part of myself making itself known on the page, the brainwork. 

image source

It's a highly individual challenge, too. I have a strong support network and love the heck out of my writing community, but there's only so much they can do for me. In the end, it's me and blank page locked into battle and I have to win or lose on my own. 

Then, if you hand that story over to someone else and they *get* it--they pick up what you were laying down, they laugh and cry at the right moments, they get angry at the injustices . . .well, that's a whole second level of wonder and delight. Because as much as I love writing, I'm not sure I'd keep going without readers. I need an audience to finish the circuit. Otherwise, all that gorgeous energy would spin in a circle until it just burned out. I'm not Emily Dickinson, satisfied only to have captured the moment for myself. I want to share it. 

There's nothing else in my life that gives me this feeling. 

When I was a kid writing poetry, I'd call the urge to write "itchy fingers." It was this strange little urge, this feeling of dissatisfaction that could only by soothed by wordsmithing. These days, I feel like the itch is someplace deeper than my fingertips, maybe in my brain itself. But there's a nervous energy that overtakes me when I don't get enough writing time. 

I'm sure a therapist could analyze it for me, but I'm not looking to be cured. It's worth every moment of misery along the way for ecstasy that comes when I've had a breakthrough in a story. 

So, fellow IWSGers, how does it work for you? Can you explain why you love it to someone who doesn't write? 

If you don't write, is there something like this in your life, something you love because it's challenging? 

I'd love to hear what you think in the comments!

Monday, November 29, 2021

What I Read in November


A little romance, a little war, a little nostalgia, a little nonfiction advice, and gorgeous heartbreaking prose. November was a good reading month in la Casa Bryant. 

I picked up Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson mostly because I've long been a fan of the movie featuring Christopher Reeve. I listened to it as an audiobook, read beautifully by Scott Brick, who got the breathless desperation so key to the story. 

As always seems to happen in these cases, my reading was all about comparing the movie, which I already loved, to the book. 

Luckily, everything I loved about the movie was there in the book: time travel by sheer stubbornness, star-crossed lovers, gorgeous setting, sparkling chemistry, and unapologetically sappy romance. There were some new layers, lending more ambiguity to whether the events happened or were a flight of fancy, and I liked that a lot. 

At the same time (because I'm crazy like that and often read multiple books at the same time), I was reading Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach on Kindle. I picked this one up mostly because I read a book of writing advice by the same author, and wanted to see what kind of work she's able to create using her system. For a book with a lot of military and hand to hand combat scenes, there was a surprising amount of romance in this one. Although this genre isn't my typical cup of tea, I found I really enjoyed it. Enough so, that I was frustrated by the reversal at the end. 

The only thing that stopped me from immediately buying book 2 to see what happens next was sticker shock. I'm a hard sell for ebooks over $5. After all, I don't get a physical object at all. 

I read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell in audiobook/ebook combination, moving back and forth between the two editions.  It's the December pick for my First Monday Classics Book Club, and I'm looking forward to the discussion. I read it with wide-eyed wonder when I was a child, and still found it pretty affecting with my more cynical adult brain. I hadn't realized the full range of politics surrounding care of horses. 

Structuring Your Novel by KM Weiland was suggested by a friend when I mentioned I wanted to try and learn to outline to see if that might speed my writing process. I found some good food for thought within its pages, but didn't get as many a-ha moments as I'd hoped for. Where's my magic bullet, darn it? Reading writing advice books at this stage is often dodgy as most of them are aimed at absolute beginners and I'm a little further along in my path than that, though I still have plenty to learn. 

Everything We Left Unsaid by Ashley Cade is the second volume in a romance series by a woman I know on Instagram. I read and enjoyed the first book, Something That Could Last, last year. While I still ended up cheering for our hero and heroine to get to their Happily Ever After, this one was a little less up my alley, with a large part of the early plot relying on delayed communication. Not my favorite trope. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, and enjoyed watching the next stage of this romance develop. 

I finished my reading month on a high note, like an operatic, break the wine-glass on the table note. So good! 

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell explored an imagined version of Shakespeare's marriage and the death of his son.  The prose was gorgeous, and the narration in my audiobook version by Ell Potter was perfect for the story--calm, unhurried, but with deep currents running beneath. 

This one is in the running for the best book I've read this year. 

So how was your November life in books? Anything wonderful make to the top of your TBR? I'd love to hear about in the comments!