Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Getting Ready for Valentine's Day

Why am I doing a Valentine's Day post on January 31st? Two reasons:
  • to give you time to order any of the items you might want for your sweetheart on February 14th
  • to give you time to call this list to the attention of someone who might be ordering a gift for you!
Whether you're the giver or the receiver, this should be a great place to start...

1. Book Paper Rose Bouquet:

2. Library Love Charm Bracelet:

3. Shakespeare Quote Chocolates:

4. Heart Book Light:

5. Secret Garden Charm:

6. “Love is Patient” Calligraphy Art Print:

7. “As You Wish” Engraved Bracelet:  (Princess Bride)

8. The Book of Love: Daily Quotes for Lovers:

9. Marble Heart Bookend Set:

10. "We Loved with a Love" Cufflinks:

11. Library Bookshelves Tie:

12. What I Love About You Book:

I sure hope you enjoy going through these "Tops for Books Lovers" lists (such as calendars and Christmas village accessories) as much as we enjoy compiling them. Many thanks to my assistant, Tara, who is a book lover and an excellent gift giver and therefore the perfect person to help dig up unique items that you might not hear about anywhere else. We always have a blast choosing our favorites and passing them along to you. 

Whether you celebrate with gifts or cards or just simple "I love you"s, here's wishing you a Happy (getting ready for) Valentine's Day!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links; clicking on them and making purchases generates affiliate commissions for the author.

Which gift on this list would you most like to receive? Let us know in the comments below!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Mindy’s 2017 Favorites

It’s that time again, when I like to look back at the books I read in the previous year and rank my favorites into two top ten lists, one for fiction and one for nonfiction. Considering how much reading I do (more than 100 books last year!) this has not been an easy task, but I have finally managed to whittle it all down to my top choices, and here they are. First, however, a bit of explanation…


You’ve been told not to judge a book by its cover, but once you’re finished reading it, how do you judge it? In other words, what is it that makes you consider one book to be merely good and another to be great?  If you were to compile a list of your top ten reads from the past year, what criteria would you use to rank them?

There are a number of ways to evaluate and rank fiction, all of which are perfectly valid. I’ve been asking around, and here are some of the answers I’ve gotten:

I judge a novel…

“By the emotional experience it gives me.”

“By how unpredictable it is.”

“By how well it’s crafted.”

“By the quality of the setup and then the delivery.”

“By wh
at the experts say.”

“By comparison within its genre and then in relation to other genres.”

“By the artistry of the language.”

“By the depth of its theme.”

“By how close it comes to reaching its own goals.”

That last answer is mine. I tend to judge fiction by how close it comes to reaching its own goals. For example, if I were to compare:

a humorous novel that gives me memorable characters and 
a compelling story and makes me laugh my head off


a critically-acclaimed novel that has important themes and beautiful 
language but leaves me feeling uninvested and unmoved,

then the humorous novel wins.  It may not be as “important” of a work, but because it has fully reached its own goals, it has come closer to fulfilling its promise to me as a reader and is thus, to my mind, the “better” book.  Not everyone judges novels this way, but I thought I’d explain my approach just in case you were wondering how I come up with my list of favorites.

Forget the Dishes

Beyond that, to me the single most important criteria for any work of fiction is that it should keep me glued to its pages, that it should offer up some element that forces me to keep reading.  That element can be anything from a fascinating protagonist (The Wrong Side of Goodbye) to the primary plot questions that I simply must have answered (The Gifting Trilogy) to great pacing that sweeps me into its momentum (Map of Fates) to such esoteric things as the “feel” of a place or people and my desire to remain with them rather than return to reality (The Yada Yada Prayer Group) and more. In other words, any number of things might rise up from a story, grab my hand, and pull me fully into its world despite the demands of real life. But whatever the reasons, if I can’t put a book down, to me that’s a great book–whether it’s a fine and complex piece of literature or a simple young adult action adventure.

I demand a lot from the nonfiction I read as well, though my criteria for judging isn’t quite as defined.  For example, I declared a tie between my two favorites for the year, but I loved them for very different reasons. Both are wonderfully written and quite compelling, but The Creative Habit gave me life-changing advice, encouragement, and inspiration while Packing for Mars taught me tons of incredibly fascinating things–some of which I didn’t even know I wanted to know–and presented scientifically complicated concepts in completely accessible and often humorous ways.

I guess I could say that I judge nonfiction by a wider range of criteria, such as how hard it is to put down, how much time I spend thinking about it when I’m not reading it, how it affects me personally, how compellingly it informs me of something new, how deeply it “connects” with me, and more. Bottom line, I guess my favorite works of nonfiction are the ones that stick with me long after I’ve finished reading them.

And Now, the List

So, without further ado, here are my favorites of all the books I read in 2017. (Note: Bear in mind, as always, that these weren't necessarily books that were released last year, they’re just books that I happened to read last year.)


Please note that this post contains affiliate links; clicking on them and making purchases generates affiliate commissions for the author.

1.  TIE:
Map of Fates: Conspiracy of Us #2 by Maggie Hall

The Gifting Trilogy: The Gifting; The Awakening; The Gathering by K.E. Ganshert

2. The Wrong Side of Goodbye by Michael Connelly

3. Mad Mouse: John Ceepak #2 by Chris Grabenstein

4. Don’t Ever Get Old by Daniel Friedman

5. Signals: New and Selected Stories by Tim Gautreaux

6. The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson

7. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

8. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

9. 600 Hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster

10. A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass


1.  TIE:
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

2. Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self by Manoush Zomorodi

3. Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

4. Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

5. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

6. Cuba Beyond the Beach: Stories of Life in Havana by Karen Dubinsky

7. You Are Here: From the Compass to GPS, the History and Future of How We Find Ourselves by Hiawatha Bray

8. Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre

9. TIE:
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World by Joan Druett

The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard

10. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Nonfiction Honorable Mention

I can’t resist adding one more book here, not because of any salient qualities as a work of nonfiction but just because of the impact it had on my life in 2017.  By following the principles set out in this book, I managed to lose 30 pounds, get my diabetes under control, drop some medications, and maintain a completely new and workable lifestyle that’s keeping the weight off and slowly helping me lose even more.  For that alone, it’s worth recommending:

The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung

Here's my before and after:
DEC 2016
DEC 2017

Let me know if you give it a try and, if so, how it works for you!

Read by Listening

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Because of eye issues, I can only read audibly these days, so you may be interested to know that every single one of the books on my lists are available not just in print but in audio versions as well.  I love overdrive, the audiobook resource for my local library, and audible, the single most-used app on my phone and an entity I simply couldn’t live without. I highly recommend audible to anyone who enjoys listening to audiobooks!  Learn more by clicking on one of these links, below, and get two free audiobooks just for signing up...

One Last Thought

I mentioned above that my most important criteria for fiction is that it forces me to keep reading. This is my primary goal as a writer as well. Certainly, I try to focus on artistry and craft and pacing and characterization and theme and spiritual value and so on, but in the end if a book makes you shrug and go “eh”, if you’re able to put it aside easily without a single twinge of regret, then it has not hit the mark.

My tagline is “Read Now, Sleep Later” because my aim as an author is to keep you up past your bedtime because you can’t bear to stop reading the stories I’ve written for you. Whenever that happens, then as far as I’m concerned, I’ve done my job. J 

The authors of the books in these lists have certainly done their jobs, and done them remarkably. I hope you’ll find my recommendations useful and discover some new and wonderful books to read.

In the meantime, here’s a re-post of the little 20-second clip that elaborates on my tagline. Enjoy!

So how do you evaluate the books you read? Finish this sentence in the comments below:  I judge a novel by…