2016 Reading Challenge

Hey, folks!

So, there’s a few 2016 reading challenges making their way through the Internet. I’m participating in this one (and, who knows, probably more than one by the end of the year).

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This is an active list of titles I have read or will read this year, written in order of the challenge.

Crimson Bayou by Alizabeth Lynn

On Mystic Lake by Kristin Hannah (just finished this one)

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

—— (don’t know yet, but will ask one of the lovely librarians at Rutherford County Library soon)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Carrie by Stephen King

Probably a Harry Potter book or Perks of Being a Wallflower

Haven’t decided yet, but perhaps the one book that comes to mind that still sits on my shelf, only somewhat read because I just did not want to spend the time getting through it (wasn’t my cup of tea), John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things.

Angel Falls by Kristin Hannah

Some sort of old “classic” or Old English type of literature – something by Shakespeare or the like.

The possibilities are immense here – but I’ve really wanted to read Anne of Green Gables as an adult because I remember loving it as a child. We’ll see.

 

Soooo, how about you? Are you participating? Which books do you have in mind/have you read this year?

Any recommendations on books that are intimidating?

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Bread

This story was written in response to the one-word prompt, “bread.”

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Marla entered her father’s towering old house. It had never truly felt like home – just some place that she visited when her father requested her to. It had always seemed stiff and unwelcoming. As if by taking one wrong step across the egg-shelled floor, she’d cause the house to crash down around them. Maybe it was in the way her father stood over her, making sure she was always embodying the ladylike way in which she was told to act. She wondered if he knew that when he was out of the room, she’d often stuck her tongue out at him as a child, and flipped him the bird as an adolescent. He acted like she wanted to be here. To be the robot he was always too prone to remind her she should be.

She’d had different plans. And over the years, she’d fought the voice in the back of her head reprimanding every non ladylike thing she’d said or did.

So, walking into her father’s house now, with the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air, and a relaxed and soft smile on her father’s face as he greeted her in the foyer and wrapped her in a hug that was not stiff and not unwelcoming, Marla was caught off guard. Who was this man and what had he done with Jeffrey Winston III?

She hugged him back, sort of. Her arms went around him but remained fairly stagnant instead of squeezing back, and her hands awkwardly patted his back. How was she so bad at hugging? If the moment weren’t so abnormally unrefined, she might have laughed.

“It’s so good to see you, Mars. I’m glad you decided to pay your old dad a visit.” His voice was cheery and he’d call her the nickname he hadn’t used since she was five. She should have had plenty to say, but verbal communication seemed to be something she used to know how to do.

Instead, she furrowed her eyebrows, cocked her head slightly, gave her father a half-hearted smile and waited for the other shoe to drop. She wanted to believe that this smiling, earnest man was the father she’d always wanted but never had – to accept that without doubt – but she’d known the other version of Jeffrey Winston III for 30 years and couldn’t be easily swayed. He was up to something – and they both knew it.

“So, I guess you’re wondering why I asked you to visit me this Christmas.” She saw his eyes glaze over but she couldn’t tell if it was tears or memories that coated his eyes. She heard him clear his throat and noticed the tense pause that seemed to span minutes but was only a few seconds. “This will by my last.”

She watched her father’s shoulders give in and the tears he’d fought back fall down his face. She’d never seen her father cry; never expected he was capable of it. Emotions were never a part of their relationship, or a part of her father’s persona. He’d broken a few ribs and his left leg in a car accident once and he hadn’t cried. He’d seen his only child off to college and hadn’t even offered a single emotion – no teary-eyes, no “I love you,” no “I’m proud of you,” no recognition that they were indeed connected in any way. And while that had hurt, she’d known not to expect it.

But here he was, a couple feet away from her, sitting down on his beloved brown leather recliner in what seemed to be an inconsolable heap of a man. And despite never having seen this man before, she felt that missing connection now. She reached for his hand and held it, the whites of her knuckles showing.

She had so many questions she wanted to ask – Last Christmas? What do you mean? How do you know? What is your diagnosis? Have you gotten second and third and fourth opinions? – but the questions remained lodged within, wreaking havoc in her brain. She knew he would talk when he could.

A few minutes later, her father looked up, his eyes red and cheeks flushed and splotchy. She saw him try to smile, to be the stoic one he’d always needed to be, but his lips fell flat.

She heard the guttural sound of his throat clearing once again.

“I’ve been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. I’ve known about it for a few months and only have a month or two more before …” Marla heard his voice catch on the lump in his throat. “Before I die.”

Marla felt her own tears build up and felt when they readily spilled down her face and onto her shirt. How many tears had she shed over her father’s inability to be anything other than an uppity know-it-all poor excuse of a man? How many times had she resented her father for not loving her? And now it didn’t matter. Because here he was – the father she’d always wanted – and he was dying.

And there was no cure. No stopping it. No making up for lost time. No do-overs. No father-daughter moments to make and then cherish. Their past would have to suffice. She knew the world to be a cruel and unjust place, but she’d never felt it so much as she did now.

“How many doctors have you seen? How about chemo or radiation? Alternative medicine?”

She saw the look of defeat in his eyes and realized that he’d already been denied those opportunities. Or he’d tried them and they didn’t work.

“Nothing left to do, Mars. They said chemotherapy and radiation weren’t going to work – I was too far gone already. And if that wasn’t going to work, no alternative medicine would either.” This time he’d resigned to making sure his smile pushed through. But she couldn’t help thinking that smiles were pointless right now. What was there to smile about?

“I’m sorry. I know I wasn’t much of a father. I wanted to be.” Was that guilt in her father’s eyes? Regret? “I could tell you I didn’t know how to be a good father. My own father was a cold, hard man and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But the truth is I didn’t try hard enough. I took what came naturally to me and went with it instead of making sure that you never questioned my love for you, or how happy I am to be your father. I wish I wouldn’t have waited so long to admit this – maybe we could’ve had more time, with good memories. I need you to know that I do love you.” He was looking straight into her eyes and squeezing her hand as he spoke.

She wanted to shame him for not trying hard enough – she wanted to let him know how much he’d hurt her by not being loving, or supportive. But she couldn’t. She could see he already knew these things – would take them to his grave – and she couldn’t hurt him when he was reaching out to her.

He’d chosen to spend his last Christmas with her. He’d chosen her. And that was something he’d never done before. It would have to be enough.

And two months later when she placed flowers on her father’s casket and said her final good-bye, she knew that the time they’d shared since Christmas would be enough to hold her together when she needed him most. It had to.

X-Ray

This poem was written in response to the one-word prompt, “x-ray.”

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Like an x-ray

She saw right through me,

Saw all that’s left is bones.

She told me I’d be okay,

My bones were strong enough

to carry me through what’s

remaining of my life.

How could she know,

when she had all of her parts

within her,

that it’s not possible to sustain

Without a heart?

Clip

This story was written in response to the one-word prompt, “clip.”

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“Did you see Marina’s YouTube clip?”

Trevor noticed how Ayana’s cheeks flushed a rosy red at the mention of Marina. She’d obviously seen the clip. He wondered if she would ever tell her how she felt. It’s not like Marina would be terrible to her if she didn’t feel the same way. Marina was one of the nicest people he’d ever met. She never intentionally hurt anyone. She knew how it felt to hurt. But Ayana didn’t know her as well as Trevor, so he decided to give her the nudge she needed.

“Well, what did you think? Her song was dope, right?”

He noticed Ayana’s mouth twist into a slight smile and he knew now was the time to push. Not too much, but just enough.

“Her lyrics were really good, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, they were good. She was great. She’ll probably be a star.”

Maybe she wasn’t telling Marina that she’d practically been in love with her for a year not because she was too shy, but because she didn’t want to hold Marina back or get in her way. Maybe she was worried that if they did start dating and Marina became famous, she’d only end up being cheated on. Her ex had done a number on her.

Maybe he should stop pushing. He loved them both; they were his closest friends. He wanted to see them both happy, but now he didn’t know if that meant having anything to do with getting them together. He wouldn’t want either of them to end up hurting the other.

“Yeah, probably. She’s got real talent. She’s better than most of the so-called-artists today.” Trevor paused, fighting the urge to flat out ask why Ayana just didn’t put her feelings out there.

“People change when they get famous.”

“Yeah, but do you honestly believe Marina will? I mean, she’s not like most people. Marina’s Marina. Our Marina. She might make more money, but she’s still our sweet, wouldn’t-hurt-a-fly Marina. Don’t you think?”

He saw Ayana thinking about what he’d said. Her face was doing that scrunchy-concentration thing she always did when contemplating.

“I guess not. She’s pretty down to earth. It would probably take a lot for her to change too much.”

“Then why aren’t you telling her how you feel?” The words slipped out before Trevor could stop them. Well, they were out there now.

“I …” Ayana began to say something but thought better and closed her mouth. She looked down at the floor as if she were studying the fabric. He noticed her shoulders droop and she was chewing her bottom lip. “I just can’t. I don’t think she feels the same way and I don’t know if I can take that kind of rejection right now. If she doesn’t feel the same or even want to try dating, that changes the whole dynamic of our relationship and I want her in my life, even if friendship is all it’ll ever be between us.”

So, there it was. She didn’t want to ruin their friendship. Something was better than nothing.

“But, what if she does feel the same and you both just never say anything? How is that fair to either one of you?”

“She doesn’t. I just know. Just like you knew Jessica wasn’t into you, remember? How did that go for you? You knew she probably didn’t like you as more than friends and you told her anyway. You two aren’t even on speaking terms anymore.” Trevor knew she had a point, but it hurt to hear her talk about him like that. At least he’d been adult enough to say how he’d felt. It was only because he did so that he found out Jessica wasn’t the one for him. He was glad to know that … now.

“You’re right. But, you can’t use the Jessica experience as a scapegoat. You and Marina are not me and Jessica. You don’t know what you can be if you don’t find out.”

Trevor heard Ayana sigh, letting her hang-ups dissipate into thin air. He’d gotten to her. And he was glad for it. Maybe their relationship will change. But what is life without change? They may end up head over heels in love, or they could end up not talking anymore because things become awkward when feelings aren’t reciprocated. Either way, Ayana will know, and he’d be there no matter what.

“She comes home from Asheville tonight?”

“Yep.”

“Okay. But if I tell her and she doesn’t want anything to do with me afterwards, I’m going to need you to be close by. With a couple bottles of wine.”

“Of course … Hey, I’m proud of you.”

Ayana’s nerves were already wreaking havoc and he knew her mind was going a mile a minute. He walked the couple of feet between them and put his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. He may not be able to calm her nerves, but he could try. He wished he could tell her that everything would be okay, that he knew Marina felt the same about her, but he couldn’t. All he knew is Ayana deserved to know one way or another.

Sand

This story was written in response to the one-word prompt, “sand.”

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It had been four years to the date since Blythe had felt the cool, lovely sand between her toes. She loved days like these. Days she could smell the salt water, hear the gulls hollering at each other, enjoy the beach to herself, and when work was a distant memory.

Last time she was here Dante was also.

She hadn’t thought of him for some time. Three years, give or take. Not that he didn’t occasionally cross her mind, but he was just a part of her past she’d tried hard to forget.

But being here, in this place where they’d spent every anniversary, brought reluctant memories of him. Of them.

Four years ago, he was right here by her side sitting in the sand, holding her hand tightly. They knew it would be the last time they were here together. Everything they did that weekend felt like they were clinging to a moment, a feeling, that would never come again. They stayed in bed ten minutes longer than usual, holding each other because neither one wanted to be the one to let go. Each smile mattered more, so they smiled more purposefully. They watched the sun set each night instead of rushing in when it became too chilly to stand in the late October cold. They pretended not to care when the occasional breeze filled their bodies with goosebumps. Nothing mattered except the memories.

Blythe felt the start of hot tears form in her eyes and she let them fall. He should have been here with her. He shouldn’t have said good-bye. He’d broken her heart even though she knew it was coming. She wasn’t naive. She knew when a man was distancing himself, about to make her regret the wall she always carefully manufactured after she let anyone in and it ended in pain. She’d begun building her wall back up before he’d ever uttered a word indicating he wanted to end things.

She just hadn’t realized then what she realized now: Love is no match for a wall.

He hadn’t been happy in quite some time. At least that was his excuse. He never pointed the finger at her, but that didn’t stop Blythe from thinking if she’d just joined in on more adventurous, spontaneous outings and wasn’t quite so insecure about her weight that maybe he would have been happier, or at least tried to make it work.

Wiping the tears from her face, Blythe gulped back the remaining ones and stared ahead at the vast black ocean. She wondered when she’d be able to reclaim this beach as hers and not theirs. She’d been visiting this beach since she was in college. Well before she’d met Dante. She didn’t want to give up something she loved and seemed to love her back just because it was associated with a guy who wanted to marry her, then didn’t.

Standing up and brushing the sand from her pants, she bid the ocean adieu and forced herself to enjoy some wine and a nice, luxurious bath to ease the tension stiffening her back and pounding inside her head. One day at a time, her mother had said. As if there was any other way. She set the glass of red wine on the side of the jetted tub and slipped in, instantly feeling the pulsating water relieve some tension. The memory of Dante’s hands as he rubbed her shoulders from behind in this very tub made her cheeks flush a scarlet red because what happened afterward the time before last had given her so much pleasure that she couldn’t help but long for it now.

But she was alone. And she should get used to it. Even if she felt in her gut that saying yes to his marriage proposal was a mistake, she’d loved him fiercely and she didn’t think she’d feel that way again anytime soon. It was good for her to be alone, to find herself again. Or maybe that’s what her best friend, Becca, had convinced her she needed. Either way, here she was, trying to relax and forget about human connection for more than five minutes, but failing.

She wanted to meet ‘the one.’ She wanted to spend a lifetime with someone who loved her wholly; someone who didn’t want to change her or belittle her when she tried to change but just couldn’t. Secretly, she liked herself. She was strong, smart, giving, and supportive. It was her self-doubt that twisted her into thinking she should be what others want her to be. As if she wasn’t good enough as is. She wasn’t some worn out toy that needed to be fixed.

No longer enjoying the bath, or the wine, Blythe got out of the tub, wrapped herself in the soft cotton robe provided, and lied down on the bed. Looking up at the log beams of the cabin, she appreciated how sturdy and beautiful they were. They didn’t come crashing down on her, like her love life; they gave her refuge and protection, and an aesthetic appeal she liked. Snickering to herself, she thought, Now how about I find a man that I can say the same about?

To be continued…

Dance

This was written as a response to a one-word prompt (which was “dance”).

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Talia had not asked for much for her tenth birthday. She knew from the deeper stress lines on her mom’s face that money was tight again. All she really wanted was a pair of tap shoes anyway. She had no idea if they were expensive or not, but she hoped not.

On the morning of her special day, Talia’s mother woke her at 7:42 a.m., as always, to sing her Happy Birthday. Talia always loved her birthday mornings. She thought her mom had a pretty voice and she liked the way her mom’s eyes brimmed with tears as she hugged and kissed her after the song, telling her how much she loved her and was proud of her. Today was no different.

Another tradition that Talia loved was favorite breakfast. Her mother always made sure that Talia had her favorite breakfast foods – chocolate chip pancakes, scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, and strawberries with whipped cream – the morning of her birthday. The smell floating up from the kitchen always put an extra pep in her step after her mother woke and sang to her. In no time, they were enjoying breakfast. She was able to savor it this time because this year her birthday fell on a Saturday.

After breakfast, Talia and her mother went to the living room where she saw that her gifts – three this year – were waiting for her on the ottoman. She tried not to get her hopes up so that she did not look disappointed if she did not get the tap shoes, but she felt her heart flutter a bit and she could not hold back the smile she felt growing on her face.

She sat down on the couch, took the gift from the top, and proceeded to carefully unwrap it. A pair of purple and green leggings with a white shirt that had sparkles at the top. She loved them. She wanted to try them on, but wanted to unwrap the other two presents even more.

The second gift was a small jewelry box with new dangly earrings inside. She saw one that had sea turtles dangling from it and let out a giddy squeal. She loved sea turtles – to her, they were majestic and beautiful. She put the earrings on, with her mother’s help.

She loved her birthday presents, so if she did not get the dance shoes she wanted, she knew she would not have to fake her happiness. She was happy. Then why did she still want those shoes so badly? She had wanted to tap dance ever since she saw a routine on a reality show where the shoes made noise and were part of the dance. She had been entranced and everything after that had been about tap. She wanted to have noise-making dance shoes. She wanted to dance.

“Tal, the last gift is from your grandpa. He thought you would like them.” She noticed something odd about her mother’s smile – it was genuine but it seemed a little tense. Like she wanted to say something but decided not to.

As she gingerly opened the final gift, Talia saw what looked like a point to a shoe. She tore the paper off in a rush and jumped up and down and around in circles. She had tap shoes! Glorious, shiny black tap shoes!

She ran over to her mother and gave her the tightest hug she could and then put on her shoes.

She went to the kitchen, her mother following along, to test them out on the tile floor. One tap, two taps. Three, four. Each sound was different.

She tapped for what felt like hours, lost in her own world. Now that she could dance, she did not want to stop.

Emme Zava: Soon-to-be Author

My writer friend, Emme Zava, is about to be a published author. To say that I am excited for her is an understatement. I have been beta reading her work for years. I am happy that others will have the opportunity to read her novel, On the Other Side of Aether (Book One of the Guardian of the Arcanos series). It is excellent. If you are looking – and even if you’re not – for a new author to read, then please do yourself a favor and read her book when it is published. Emme is a fantastic writer. You will not be disappointed. You can thank me later.

Visit her website for details and to keep up-to-date with information about Emme Zava and her work.

http://www.emmezava.com/

Read what I have to say about On the Other Side of Aether here.

Emme, I am so happy for you! I cannot wait to hold your book in my hands and devour it once again.

International Literacy Day

Unfortunately, I was so busy on Monday and surprisingly yesterday that I couldn’t find the time to write a post about International Literacy Day (or, really, about my love for reading and writing and what they’ve meant to me throughout my life). I want to back up … we can pretend it’s still Monday (I know, I know – not what you want to do).

Literacy, in short, is the ability to read and write. I want to take a moment and just talk about literacy for a moment.

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We, as Americans, might take for granted our relatively literate country and the plethora of books we have access to. We (most of us) were educated enough to at least learn to be decently literate. Literacy is not something we typically have to move mountains to attain. However, there are so many countries (and, yes, poor communities in the U.S.) that do not have access to books or education. Because literacy is so important in life (and I’ll get to how important it’s been in mine), it would be a more productive, smart, happy world if we all were literate – what would the world be if we all had a good education and the ability to read whatever we want? Imagine the knowledge, the understanding, the connectedness we’d share.

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I challenge each of my followers to donate a book to a place where literacy is low. I’m serious. Pick a book. Or two. Three. However many you can. Then, pick a country or community that has a need for books to help educate kids and adults alike, and donate. Ship them. Let’s do something positive. What it would mean to me to learn to read, and learn to love the act of reading and all the joy a book harnesses within its pages had I not an education or any books to read.

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Reading and writing go hand-in-hand for me. From the moment I learned to read, it consumed my whole being. I wanted to read whenever I could. As soon as I got home from school, during an adult’s soap opera watching time, to my siblings, while an adult was cooking – just whenever I could. When I was able to read chapter books, I could easily get lost in a book and not emerge to reality unless I was made to (bedtime, let’s say). My love for stories and poetry is eternal.

During my seventh grade year, I wrote my first poem. The few people I showed it to didn’t believe I’d written it and said I must have “gotten it from someone else” (my seventh grade English teacher said that). At first, I was hurt and embarrassed. Here I’d written something private – and as a very introverted, shy girl, it is worth mentioning – that I actually shared and I’d been told I hadn’t. They looked at me as if I were some pathetic liar who had to make things up to get attention. Believe me – from the depths of my being – I did not want attention. I most often sought to be as invisible as possible.

However, as I entered high school, I began to write more and more poetry. I figured if I was so good at it that a teacher didn’t believe I wrote something I did, then I must be on to something, and that sparked my fire. I wrote hundreds of poems during my high school days and early adult life. Then, I stopped. I felt I had nothing left to say.

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I dabbled in a couple of short stories, but never really treated them seriously (although I aim to amend that); I wrote a poem every now and then; and, I started a book (in my head, time and time again) but never let the ideas have their time to shine on paper. Then, I was invited to Camp NaNo this July and I accepted. I wanted to write. I felt the need for it. So, I went for it. Managed to write just over 18k in a month. I have never written so much – but more importantly, I’d never felt so alive. I felt such passion as I’d never felt before. And now the need and want to write flows through my veins. I’m still writing that novel and I feel great about it.

And I still read. Whenever I get the chance to read for pleasure, you best believe I’m on it. There are so many books I want to read. If the day comes that I no longer have the desire to read and write, I am dead. And even then …