You HAVE to Read This One!

I’ll tell you a secret… There is not an author in the world who can make a living selling books. Authors make a living by having other people sell their books. So you need to get into a position where you’re good enough, you know your craft well enough, you tell good enough stories with enough interest in them, that people will not only read it and go, “That’s pretty good, I’ll read another one,” but they grab their friend and go, “Holy crap, you’ve got to read this book. It’s amazing.” That’s what’s going to get you a living as a writer. —Brandon Sanderson, Writing Excuses podcast, S11.E11

This holiday season, I got more than a few text and emails from people asking for book recommendations for various loved ones of all age groups and I was more than happy to oblige. I love gushing about books I loved, love the puzzle of pairing someone with a new story well-fitted to their tastes, love giving books as gifts! A few of my favorites this year that I think everyone should consider sitting down and reading:

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THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS by Anna-Marie McLemore

YA. Contemporary Romeo and Juliet, with mermaid-nomad performers vs. tree-hopping acrobats. Dark family secrets and grudges and magical realism and so many pretty pretty sentences. Read this in one sitting–which never happens–and I cried. And cuddled the book. I might actually reread this one–which also never happens.

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OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord

YA. Summer. Taylor-Swift-esque music sensation BFF roadtrip. Swoony.

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CONSTABLE & TOOP by Gareth P. Jones

MG. Ghosts. England. Absolutely charming heroes and villains.

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HOUR OF THE BEES by Lindsay Eager

MG. Summer vacation. Stuck on a desert ranch with her family (including a bratty older sister and a grandpa suffering from dementia she just met). Family folklore. Magical realism at it’s absolute finest. Yes, I cried.

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SIX OF CROWS and CROOKED KINGDOM by Leigh Bardugo

YA. Duology. Fantasy. Magic. A dirty slum of a city. A heist. A crew of thieves and witches and soldiers and tight-rope walkers. Absolutely some of the best writing I’ve ever experienced.

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A GATHERING OF SHADOWS by V.E. Schwab

Adult! Book #2 in an amazing fantasy series. Pirates and London pubs and royal Olympic-like games of magical talents.

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A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE by Brittany Cavallaro

YA. (Charlotte) Holmes, meet (Jamie) Watson. In boarding school. In New England. All the spit and fire and sass you love from Sherlock dialogue.

 

 

 

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January’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Book: Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 404

Date Published: May 2006

Publisher: Calkins Creek

How I Discovered this Book: Went to the History Museum of Catawba County in North Carolina a few months ago, which had an exhibit on the polio hospital that had been run there in the 1940s. I expressed a deep interest in the topic (GOD I LOVE THE HISTORY OF PLAGUES…ESPECIALLY polio) to the museum curator and she pointed out that a children’s historical fiction book set in the hospital itself, written by a local author, was for sale in the gift shop. Obviously, this book was meant for me and I bought it immediately.

Thoughts: MG historical fiction always has a sweet spot for me as a reader. The voice of the story, and the main character narrating it, was so distinct, uniquely her and also uniquely of that place, both historically and geographically. It’s a perspective of WWII from the home front, the families and children left behind when their fathers went to fight overseas. I don’t think there are enough books that have this perspective, particularly from a character living in the south, as a region, and, let’s be honest, did you even know that there was a polio outbreak during WWII in the United States. (I only learned this in college during a really specific history course, but otherwise I think I’d still be totally clueless about this usually “hidden” history.) I love that this book was set during WWII, but wasn’t about every single battle fought during WWII, which made it feel more realistically like it was from a child’s perspective, for me personally. Perfect if you want a historical fiction read that will surprise and charm you.

Book: Ghost Knight by Cornelia Funke

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,387

Date Published: May 2012

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: Digging through the OverDrive audiobook archive my library provides. Looked up Cornelia Funke, a favorite author, and found this lovely gem.

Thoughts: Love. Love love love love. Set in charming Salisbury, England, this is EXACTLY how I like my ghost stories: creative and historical (there are medieval KNIGHTS, folks!) and spooky and funny, with saucy spunky characters, alive and dead alike. This reads like my very favorite MG books when I was a MGer myself. I also happen to think this is the best comp book out there I’ve found for my current WIP (so I’m totally referencing this book in my query letter in a few months, when I finally can compose said query letter, thank you very much!) if you’re interested. PS: If you’ve read and loved this book in the past, let’s be friends. Also, will you please be my beta reader? (I’m kidding…but not kidding.)

Book: Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blackman

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 2,290 (it was at under 2,000 when I started reading, though!)

Date Published: April 2014

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

How I Discovered this Book: Mentioned in a round-up most-anticipated April releases over on the YA book blog, Perpetual Page-Turner.

Thoughts: Intensely detailed historical fiction that makes you feel like you’re there, in the early-early years of Nazi German. I could actually see the brick of the cobblestone streets, the world building and setting was so detailed. The twist of this story is that the main character is trying to solve her father’s murder…and her Uncle Dolf is no other than Adolf Hitler himself. An intimate, up-close, and brave portrayal of a massive historical figure who usually remains distant (in a far-off-famous-person sort of way) in young adult fiction.

End of an Era

It’s come time to retire my little old laptop. It overheats, turns off and on on its own command, is the equivalent weight of a pile of bricks, and despite multiple battery replacements over the years it can last only about fifteen minutes when not plugged into an outlet. I want to retire it now before one day it just decides not to turn on any more and I have a major melt down.

I’ve been thinking this for a while, but with NaNoWriMo looming, my fear that the computer would just call it quits in the middle of a massive write-in session has been keeping me up at night (I kid you not).

My little old computer was a Christmas gift in December 2008 when I was a sophomore in college. That was very nearly SIX years ago! As I’m sifting through the computer, making sure everything is exported and archived to an external hard drive, I started keeping tally of how many books I wrote on this old keyboard and I realized something:

I wrote my very first novel on this computer.

I mean, the first novel I consider my “real” novel attempt. There were of course novels in middle school and high school I muddled in and a few I even finished, but the book I wrote for independent study, a MG historical, in spring 2009 was the very first experience of me sitting down with a plan and a novel-writing goal, the first time I produced something (nearly) novel-length worth sharing with others.  All told, I’ve written nearly five books on this thing:

1. 35,000-word historical MG (spring semester, 2009)

2. 54,000-word YA (2011; first 4,000 written as college creative writing capstone final, 50,000 to completion for my very first NaNoWriMo win!)

3. 15,000-word non-fiction (2012; my published Byberry State Hospital book!)

4. 66,000-word YA dystopian (started in NaNoWriMo 2012, finished in December 2013)

5. 12,000-word YA (NaNoWriMo 2013 attempt)

6. 40,000-word current WIP, MG (started in January 2014)

We’ll just combine #5 and #6 together and call it one full book, shall we?

Let’s not even mention all the short stories and extremely lengthy history papers written on this thing. It’s seen a lot of miles/accrued a huge lifetime word count! [pats affectionately]

And may the new computer, a slim, sleek MACBOOK AIR (I am fangirl dancing inside…it is SO LIGHT) last as long and help me write the next five awesome books! Anyone want to join me for NaNo for the first 50,000-word stretch on this new keyboard and cheer each other on? :]

How many book-shaped things have you written on your current computer?

 

August’s Too Few Book Reviews

As I mentioned recently, and for a variety of reasons, I’ve become interested in starting a little blog series where at the end of every month I give a few little book reviews of any books I read that that are under reviewed. In this series I want to focus on books that, for whatever reason, haven’t gotten the media attention and book buzz other more popular books did, have less than 2,000 reviews on Goodreads as of my posting, and could use a little bit of love and attention. Also, I’m adding information for each title about how I discovered that book and/author. Mostly because I think this is interesting information, but also in case it helps any authors who have under reviewed books of their own and want to think of creative new ways of reaching new readers.

Since the 48-hour reading challenge in June, I’ve read three books that qualify.

Book: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 414

Date Published: April 22, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick

How I Discovered this Book: I discovered Annie’s blog when trolling WordPress for young adult writers blogs years ago, started following it, and have been looking forward to the release of her first novel ever since!

Thoughts: This was, no exaggeration, the best (and most realistic) contemporary YA book I’ve read in a long time. I feel like most contemporary YA falls into one of two categories: either the characters experience something Truly Terrible and Horrifying–like a drug addiction, a violent life-changing car accident, or cancer, etc.–or the conflict of the novel is developed out of a few high-school specific obstacles like “my boyfriend dumped me,” or “I’ve lost my best friend and I don’t know why.” These, of course, are all valid plotlines that appeal to many readers. But, personally, I don’t strongly relate to these experiences and don’t enjoy reading them as a general rule; as a result, I haven’t really enjoyed that subgenre of YA for a few years now. I didn’t realize what was MISSING in my life and what I WANTED DESPERATELY from a YA novel until I finished this book and was like, YES. THIS. YES. While main character Alex deals with some normal high school troubles–liking a boy, driver’s ed (which, by the way, isn’t discussed ENOUGH in YA, learning to drive is a huge momentous moment and stresser in the teenage years), etc.–the focus of the book is on her mom’s mental break down. She thinks she’s Amelia Earhart and nothing and nobody will convince her otherwise. Alex’s home life is in shambles as the family tries to struggle through this hardship. While a common complaint I have about YA is that the parents simply disappear from the story, the family is the front and center of this book. Which is so accurate to the actual teen experience! I don’t know about you, but the drama and events of high school were a minor portion of my life during those years. I spent most of my lifetime at home with my family, on weekends, after school, during the summer. What they did and what happened at home dominated my life and colored my experiences out of the home. Family problems just don’t dissipate when you walk out the front door–my freshman year, my dad had a massive heart attack and later was diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer; my concerns about his health were constant worries for me. For personal reasons, I really appreciated and related to this book. It is beautifully written, the relationships complicated and artfully drawn. It’s gritty, honest, heartbreaking, true. An absolute must read.

Book: Summerfall: A Winterspell Novela by Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 14

Date Published: August 26th, 2014

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

How I Discovered this Book: I won an ARC of Claire’s first book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, through YA author Nova Ren Suma’s blog a few years ago as a giveaway. I loved the book and started following Claire’s blog, and kept informed of each new book release. Her first two books were middle grade fiction, which I love, but I was particularly excited for her first YA book, Winterspell, due out September 30th, and jumped on this prequel as soon as it published.

Thoughts: I loved the world–it’s the land of Cane, where fairies, humans, and mages all coexist…though not peacefully!–and the descriptions of the fairy culture were tantalizing. The clothing, dress, hairstyles, etc….loved it. However, it seems that this prequel was the origins story, sort of, of the main character in the forthcoming Winterspell. This prequel was therefore the story of how the main character’s parents met, fell in love, etc. Personally, I didn’t really like their love story, though, so I’m glad that Winterspell will have the world I like so much but a whole new set of characters for me to meet and enjoy their new adventures. Can’t wait for the full-length novel in less than a month!

 

 

 

Book: The Cabinet of Curiosities by Stefan Bachman, Katherine Catmull, Emma Trevayne, and Claire Legrand

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 78

Date Published: May 27th, 2014

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

How I Discovered this Book: By following Claire Legrand’s blog, I discovered that she had started a new blog with other writers (I had read co-creator Katherine Catmull’s Summer and Bird prior to this and LOVED the writing, so was extra excited about this collaboration effort) called The Cabinet of Curiosities where they weekly post creepy little short stories. This book developed out of that.

Thoughts: A collection of short stories for a middle grade audience, this collection appealed to me right away because I like short stories, but there are almost never collections of them focused on a YA audience, let alone a middle grade one. The book ended up being a fun collection of a huge variety of story ideas, full of an impressive amount of imagination, a variety of monsters, unpleasant magic, and horrible things, perfect for readers who like stories that don’t end happily ever after!

 

48 Hour Reading Challenge Finish Line

Start Time: 9:30 am, Friday, June 6th

Finish Time: 9:30 am, Sunday, June 9th

Hour Breakdown: 

Friday: 9:30-10:30 am: (1 hour); 1:15-2:15 pm: (1 hour)

Saturday: 12:45-1:15 am: (1/2 hour); 12:15-1:15 pm: (1 hour); 1:30-4:30 pm: (3 hours); 5:50-10:10 pm (4 hours, 20 minutes)

Sunday: 7:30-9:30 am: (2 hours)

 Total Hours: 12 hours, 50 minutes

Total Books Read: 2.5

Total Pages Read: ~700

REVIEWS!

Book: Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 1,234

Date Published: August 10, 2010

Publisher: Candlewick

Format: Audiobook

This is probably going to be the strangest sentence I ever typed, but this book was a cross between Feed by M.T. Anderson and the movies Failure to Launch and Pretty Woman. Set in a not too faraway future, where teenagers use the internet so much that they’re starting to suffer from “dissociative disorder,” robot female companions have been invented to help the boys develop “real” relationships and reconnect with reality and, hopefully, their moral consciousnesses. It was an interesting idea–I was still thinking about the plot line days afterwards–but not really my cup of tea, mostly I believe because of how similar the futuristic setting was to Feed, another good book (for others) but set in a world I didn’t really enjoy visiting.

Book: The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 593

Date Published: May 20, 2014

Publisher: HarperTeen

There’s that argument that there are only a few stories that can be told and we retell them over and over again. From the first page, it was clear that this book was one of the “boyfriend breaks up with me, I want him back, but by the end of the book I’m going to realize he was wrong for me and fall in love with the right boy,” variety. The title is a spin off of The Art of War, the summer reading title that Lainey ends up pulling advice from to fight for her boyfriend back (cute and clever, no?) But this book was so much more than a standard YA romance. It was so detail-rich–the setting in a suburb of St. Louis, the goth/rock subculture, the really fleshed-out relationships with best friends–that it was full of plot twists, turns, and surprises that I totally wasn’t expecting from what I never anticipated. Mizz Creant’s House of Torture (and Pancakes) for example? With tons of torture-themed breakfast options? With probably one of the “baddest” and dearest “bad boy” character I’ve read in a long time, I was really impressed by how complicated the emotions and world building was. Besides the slight technicality of the main character’s age (she’s a rising high school senior) which actually didn’t affect the plot or characterization in any meaningful way, I would actually say that this doesn’t feel like YA, but New Adult. Personally, I imagined all of the summer shenanigans that went on to be more believable for characters just finishing their freshman year of college, or even older. (Perhaps this is based off personal experience, as I wouldn’t have really been able to relate to many of the things that happened in the book–drinking parties, dance clubs, etc.–until I was a more mature and experienced college student.) I actually think this is a selling point for this book, though, for those readers who desperate for some YA books with older themes, as there isn’t much out there on the New Adult market yet.

Book: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi

Total Current Reviews on Goodreads: 188

Date Published: April 22, 2014

Publisher: Candlewick

I actually started this challenge mostly to read this book, but, as I often do, I kept putting off the book I most wanted to read because I wanted to save the most guaranteed feeling of book-enjoyment until the end. As a result, I only got 50% through, though! Annie Cardi is a lovely writer whose blog I’ve followed for years, all the way back before this book was a book and the WIP title was still Queen of Glass, I believe. I’ve enjoyed her blog and her short fiction and as a result I was eagerly anticipating this book for years! Annie was also the one who introduced me to the 48-hour reading challenge, so I thought it would be a fitting tribute to read during the event. So far, the book is lovely. I’m in love. But I’ll have to save the review for my next post.

I think I’m going to keep reading the stack of under-reviewed books I have set aside for the next few weeks. I’m itching to read them all and am a little disappointed that I didn’t make it through more books this weekend or get more reading time in. I ended up having a busier weekend–and probably the most perfect summer weekend–than I expected. A beach day with my best friend, who I haven’t spent time with in too long. A backyard projected screening of Up with my sister and friends. A flea market adventure, some time spent at the pool, and the release of the third season of Sherlock all combined in the same 48 hour period! It’s hard to regret not reading more, with so many amazing things happening.

It was a great weekend, for both adventures and reading, and I’m so glad I participated. Until next year!

Ready, Set, Read! 48 Hour Book Challenge Starting Line

Ever since I read about the 48 Hour Book Challenge last year, when the lovely Annie Cardi participated, I have been eagerly anticipating the return of the annual event so I could finally participate myself. And it’s finally here! This very weekend! Starting this very day!

The idea? Set aside 48 hours dedicated to reading. Within those 48 hours, the goal is to read between 12-48 of them.

Despite having some exciting and time-consuming plans in the next forty-eight hours that require my nose to be very distinctly outside the pages of a book, I still wanted to commit to participating. One, because life has been so busy lately that I’ve been desperately craving a reading binge, and this official event gives me the perfect excuse to burrow with a stack of books I’ve been eyeing for months without any interruptions. Two, because I find that after reading a lot–really providing fuel for my brain–I suddenly feel the urge to write a TON of whatever WIP is on my desk. And who wouldn’t be interested in stimulating an inspired jump start on that current novel-in-progress?

I’ll admit that I’ve been so nerdy about this challenge, that I’ve actually surprised myself (have I surprised any of you? No, probably not). I’ve been planning it for a few weeks now, in a giddy, obsessed, can’t stop talking about it to everyone sort of way, the way I can only remember replicating when I was planning my sweet sixteen birthday party way back when (it was a tea party on the last day of summer, with antique tea cups I picked up at flea markets, and it was awesome).

Ultimately, I decided upon a theme for my reading material: Under-reviewed books. These are books that have less than 2,000 reviews (sometimes much much less) on Goodreads as of this post and could use a little extra love, attention, and buzz, which I’m only too happy to provide! I decided on this for a couple of reasons:

1. I never write book reviews on the blog, and writing a short review of each book I read is a requirement of the challenge. I don’t write reviews as a general rule mostly because I personally don’t like writing them (though I love reading other people’s! Keep those reviews coming, folks!) So if I was going to make an exception to the rule and post reviews, I really wanted to make them special, important, and valuable book reviews, to both readers and authors alike. In my opinion, we don’t need to publicize yet another general review of The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, at this point. At least, you don’t need mine for any particular reason.

2. I mentioned to my boyfriend a few weeks ago that there are so many books in the world and so little time, that I’ve recently installed a policy where I almost strictly read books that were personally (and highly) recommended to me by a friend who I trust with taste similar to my own or books that have been read by thousands of other readers, resulting in an extremely high rating on Goodreads. His response? “That’s kind of sad. Don’t you want to be a person who discovers amazing books nobody else has heard of yet?” I was instantly struck with such a deep sense of shame because YES I DO! I WANT to read AMAZING books whether other people have heard of them or not! Discovering a book and then recommending it to everyone I can think of is part of the great fun of reading; at least, it used to be for me. What happened to the good old days when I would pursue the library shelves for hours and pick out about ten random book that tickled my fancy, read them all, and then repeat the process two weeks later? Now, I go to the library with an edited list of titles decided upon way in advance and I don’t even glance at other lonely and chock-full-of-potential books on the shelf. This is wrong, and I want to change that.

One additional rule I set for myself for this challenge:

To be included in my list of options, I had to already own the book or, for a limited exception, a way of acquiring it for free. This is mostly because I spend too much money on books as it is and I don’t need to buy more. Especially because I currently have about one hundred books piled about my condo that I have not read yet and want to. This seemed like as good a point as any to start chipping through the pile, instead of adding to it. The only exception I made was for the audiobook–long car rides cannot be wasted on a weekend as important as this were every minute is critical potential reading time!–that I’m borrowing from my local library.

I know my list is improbably long and it would be physically impossible to read all of these books even if I didn’t sleep or shower for 48 hours, but I thought it was good to bring all of these books to the top of my to-read pile, to give them a little attention, and to give myself a wide selection to choose from each time  I finish a book, depending upon my mood. If you’re interested in what I curated for myself, I made a mini list on Goodreads called 48-hours Too Few Reviews.

If you’re interested in joining, there’s still time! Go join!

And on that note, I’m going to get busy reading…right now!

Changing Reading Habits

Back in 2012, I did some math (this alone is an amazing fact worth noting) and figured out that I wasn’t reading many “real” (i.e. physical) books. In 2012, of the 64 books I had read in the calendar year, 28 were physical books, 22 were eBooks, and 14 were audiobooks. Rounding up those percentages, that’s 44% physical paper books, 34% eBooks, and 22% audiobooks.

I kept careful records in 2013 so I’d be able to compare, and see if how I read morphed at all. The results:

In 2013, I read significantly more, clocking in at 98 total books read. (Sidenote: This is probably the most books I’ve read in a single year since middle school, when I had carefree, jobless summers in which I crammed book after book after book.) Of these, 46 were audiobooks, 29 were eBooks, and 23 were physical books. That’s 47% audiobooks, 30% eBooks, and 23% physical books. That’s almost a complete flip-flop in formats! While eBooks maintained the middle ground as my second-most-preferred method of reading, and maintained a similar percentage in the 30% range, audiobooks and physical books completely switched places. I clearly read significantly more audiobooks then I read in any other format this year.

Why did this happen? I don’t think my reading method preferences have changed, necessarily, and that from now on I’m going to be consistently reading more audiobooks. If polled, I would definitely not agree with the statement that I like audiobooks best (though I am very fond of them). And I don’t think my changing percentages are a reflection of reading habits changing in the large reading community or an indication that there’s a  general movement towards preferring digital over physical books.

Rather, I think these numbers reflect a very personal situation. I think that I’ve been in more situations in 2013 that allowed for consumption of audiobooks rather than physical books. For example, in June, my office changed locations which increased my total time in the car for the commute to an additional 3 hours a week, at minimum, so that probably helped increase my audiobook consumption. Also, I think these numbers are a reflection that…
1) My life was busier in 2013. I often have an audiobook on when I do housework; reading a physical book, on the other hand (excuse the pun), requires complete dedication of my mind and hands. I can’t hold a book with one hand, have my eyes on the page, and fold laundry with my free hand!
Also, my eBook reading (22 in 2012) increased slightly (29 in 2013) while my physical book reading (28 in 2012) decreased slightly (23 in 2013). I think this trade off was due to the fact that I was often out–doctors waiting rooms, waiting in the car to pick up my little sister, etc.–where I had access to my phone, and thereby my Kindle reading app, since, being the forgetful person I am and the fact that I downsized to a slightly smaller purse that makes it slightly harder to pack a book at all times, I was often without other, more traditional forms of reading materials.
2) I think these numbers also reflect that I’m getting more creative in how I’m managing to squeeze more reading time into my life. If you round out the numbers, while I read roughly about an equal amount of eBooks (22 in 2012; 29 in 2013) and physical books (28 in 2012; 23 in 2013) in a year to year comparison, I nearly TRIPLED the amount of audiobooks I read. That’s about triple the amount of hours of my life I dedicate to listening to audiobooks in 2013!
While I’m proud I read more this year, no matter the format, at the same time, I certainly hope to find more time in 2014 to read more and multitask less! Most of the past year I was so busy doing a million things at once (and worrying about all the other things that still needed to get done next) that I felt like I was unraveling at the seams. Reading will always be a priority, but having a few reading sessions this next year, curled up under a blanket with nothing else to do or worry about? It sounds like a nice thing aim for.