2022 Reading Year In Review

This year’s Books I Read list is the longest it has been since I started keeping track of it, by far. For instance, I came down with an illness at the start of the summer that had me unable to get out of bed for a solid week, and in that week I read ten books, which had been my previous goal for how many books to read over the summer. I plowed through them — I tend to read at a fairly quick pace — and then kept right on going.

This is a partial grouping of the books I read this past year. My Kindle is on the top of one of the piles because a lot of the books I read were on that. Also, some books aren’t pictured because I accidentally left them at school over the holidays. Oops.

This year, I found myself reading voraciously anything that put me in a good mood, because reasons. Therefore you will find a lot of books on this year’s list that are just really fun, including — but not limited to — laugh-out-loud romantic comedies (which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite genres).

I also dove into a bunch of series this year, so you’ll see a lot fewer individual authors on the list than book titles. The breadth of my reading diet was also, therefore, not as wide as I normally strive for. (I’ll do better next year.) One thing I found interesting is that some series were excellent all the way through, and some were…less consistent.

One thing I’m always curious about is how an author maintains a contiguous storyline over multiple books, especially since I’m working on a series like that myself. But I’m also interested to see how series set within the same “world” (whether it’s the real one or not) work when each book is a separate storyline but shares characters. (We see things like this quite often in category romance, where different characters play supporting roles in their friends’ stories and then get to have their own protagonistic moment in their own book. And yes, I’m working on a series like that, too, though not in the romance genre.)

Also, because I am sometimes a completist, if there’s a book I want to read that’s in the middle of a series, I will read the books that came before it first. (See also the note above about the two types of series I’m studying the mechanics of.)

As always, I’m leaving off my list the titles of any books I did not finish reading. Likewise the titles of any manuscripts I read which are not yet published. This year I am including, however, books I read which I had read before in a previous year. There are some titles I revisit, either because I love them or because I’m studying them for craft/genre reasons or because I’m teaching them.

See below the list for a partial breakdown of genres.

Sleeper by Kayley Loring
Charmer by Kayley Loring
The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird
Trouble Maker by Kayley Loring
Bloodwarm by Taylor Byas
Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
All the Feels by Olivia Dade
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Still Mine by Jayne Pillemer
Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl
The Love Interest by Kayley Loring
Munro by Kresley Cole
Payback’s A Witch by Lana Harper
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Binti: Sacred Fire by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
Boogie Knights by Lisa Wheeler
Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
Uncertain Resident by Tova Hinda Siegel
Tethered to Stars by Fady Joudah
Unbroken edited by Marieke Nijkamp
One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston
Blood Countess by Lana Popović
Good Vibrations by Kayley Loring
A Very Bossy Christmas by Kayley Loring
The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
A Not So Meet Cute by Meghan Quinn
Shutter by Taylor Byas
The Author Wheel Quick Guide to Productive Writing Habits by G.C. Boris and M. Haskell
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
From Bad to Cursed by Lana Harper
A Very Friendly Valentines Day by Kayley Loring
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King
The Vine Witch by Luanne G. Smith
So Not Meant to Be by Meghan Quinn
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Hello Darling by Kayley Loring
Cinder-Nanny by Sariah Wilson
Get Off Easy by Sara Brookes
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg
Lady Mechanika Volume 1 by Joe Benitez
It Takes a Villa by Kilby Blades
Roommaid by Sariah Wilson
The Reunion by Meghan Quinn
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik
Switch It Up by Sara Brookes
The One Night by Meghan Quinn
In the Rough by Sara Brookes
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton
The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton
Ship Wrecked by Olivia Dade
The Two Rabbits and the Great Texas Freeze by Anna and Sophia Nguyen
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Sh*t My President Says by Shannon Wheeler
Original Love by Molly Peacock

And here is the promised, but brief, breakdown by genre — only broad strokes this year, though.

46 fiction titles
5 poetry titles
3 nonfiction titles
2 graphic novels/memoir
3 children’s books

As I do every year, I’m offering to give you my opinions, for what those are worth, on any of the books listed here. Just ask if you want to know. (Also, if you want to read my formal review of Kristen Bird’s The Night She Went Missing, click here to read my essay that was published by Literary Mama.)

At some point in the next week-ish, I will do my annual Romance Titles Ranked By Heat Level list as well, since that seems to be very popular here on the blog.

So. What have you been reading? Anything you’d like to recommend? Have at it in the comments!

Authors Are Small Businesses, Too

Hello! Here in the U.S. (and perhaps other places too?) today is Small Business Saturday, one of a series of themed commerce days that launch us from Thanksgiving into the full brunt of the Christmas Shopping Season. It is what it is.

That said, did you know that authors are, in and of themselves, small businesses? Small business owners, I suppose would be more grammatically accurate (if not practically so), but the point is that we are entrepreneurs as well as artists. That is a big part of the job of being an author. Not everyone likes it. It’s not the art form we signed up for. But again, it is what it is.

If you are looking for a delightful stocking stuffer (“Take two, they’re small!”) or gift for someone who enjoys reading, you might consider one of my books. As of now, we have no supply chain problems. (Yay!) You can order directly from me (send an email to forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com) and I can ship it to you usually within 1-2 days, or you can order from any bookseller (online or brick-and-mortar).

At the moment, I have four titles available:

Finis. (fiction, Book 1 of the Animal Affinities Series) — Click here to read the first two chapters.

Homecoming (fiction, Book 2 of the Animal Affinities Series) — Click here to read the first two chapters.

The Sharp Edges of Water (poetry) — Click here to read a poem from the collection.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood (international anthology of writing and artwork for which I am one of the lead contributors)

I’m happy to sign books and get them to you ASAP. (You will pay shipping.) If you order them before December 15th, there’s a much better chance you’ll have them in time for Christmas, if that’s your thing.

Leave a comment here on this blog post or email me at forest.of.diamonds@gmail.com to order them from me directly, but again, you can get all three of my own titles just about anywhere. (If a bookstore is out of stock, have them order it from Ingram.) The Milk of Female Kindness is available through me directly or through Amazon.

Thank you for supporting your local indies!

Monday Earworm — And A Reading Tomorrow Night!!

So apparently there was this show called Live From Daryl’s House, that was just Daryl Hall at his house jamming with a bunch of famous people or something? I didn’t see the show, didn’t even know about it, but I always enjoyed Hall and Oates’ music back in the day (and not gonna lie, still do), and then I came across this clip from that aforementioned series with Daryl Hall and Cee Lo Green and a band performing “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” and it’s pretty great. Very relaxed, very funky, very jammy. So here, now you can enjoy it, too!

OH, and also! Tomorrow night I’m going to be the featured poet at the Cobalt Café reading. The last time I was the featured reader at Cobalt was in the late 90s, when I was living in Los Angeles. Because that’s where Cobalt is. But I’m not in L.A. right now, and won’t be tomorrow, either, because their reading series is now online! Yay!

Wonderful poet, founder of PoetrySuperHighway, and all-around purveyor of and advocate for poetry Rick Lupert is still running the show. I’ll be reading, and there will also be an open mic. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Los Angeles time. If you’re on the west coast, great! Tune in with or after your dinner? But for those of you in the central time zone (like me), that will be 9:30 p.m. (And doing the math from there, mountain time is 8:30 pm. and eastern time is 10:30 p.m.) I hope you can tune in and enjoy the reading with us — and maybe read one of your own poems if you have some? (The reading will be over Zoom, so be sure to register with your actual name so Rick will let you in from the waiting room. Go to this event page to get the Zoom link.)

So now that the shameless promotion portion of this post is out of the way, here’s some music for you. Enjoy!

A FIRE TO LIGHT OUR TONGUES

Hello! I have some very exciting news! Two of my poems, “Magdalen” and “Epiphany,” have just been published in A Fire to Light Our Tongues: Texas Writers on Spirituality. This anthology had a long road to publication.

It began before covid times and one of the women fiercely behind the project actually passed away before she could see the book in print. But it is out now, and filled with poetry on the ever-shifting nature of spirituality and how we interact with it, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Other poets featured in this book include Naomi Shihab Nye, Rich Levy, Robin Davidson, Robert Okaji, and Kevin Prufer, just to name a few. The anthology contains two parts, “Pandemic Time” and “Contraries,” and within “Contraries” are the following themed sections:
Belief and Doubt
Good and Evil
Love and Hope
Known and Unknown
Truth and Beauty
Joy and Gratitude

This is a beautiful book, and I hope you’ll give it a look. You can even get it, at least for a time, at a 20% discount with the code “TCU20” at this link to TAMU Press. (Don’t use the quotation marks when you put the code in.)

I’m seriously excited about this. We’ve waited a few years for this book to finally come out, and it has definitely been worth the wait!

Poetry in September

Why do we write poetry, anyway? It’s not like it’s a lucrative literary market (at least not here in the U.S.). It’s not like the general reading public is clamoring for midnight poetry book release parties. How many contemporary poets can the average person name? How many books of poetry does the average reader have on the shelf?

It’s not about any of that, of course, though all kinds of people read poetry. All kinds of people write poetry, too — not just Fancy Published Authors or “academic types.” And there are so many different kinds of poetry out there, with an extraordinarily wide range of accessibility from light verse to down-to-earth, relatable narrative to completely esoteric, and everything in between.

Poetry allows us to make sense of whatever is swirling inside our minds and our hearts. (Just ask any young person with a diary and a penchant for rhyme.) It’s a gift of language and creativity. Edward Hirsch once said to me that poetry was the intersection of experience and vocabulary, and I thought, among all the different ways people can choose to define poetry, that one idea resonated as a baseline.

Many types of writers can benefit from experimenting with poetry.  Even though I’m primarily a fiction writer now (professionally), my Creative Writing degree is actually in Poetry. I began my university work as a Fiction student but switched my junior year, and after writing nothing but poetry for a few years, when I came back to writing fiction I realized that everything I’d learned about language and syntax from writing poems had made my prose exponentially better.

And now, I still write poetry because it feels like a more comfortable form of meditation in the midst of my uncomfortably busy life. It helps me process my experiences and my reactions to them in a slightly less frenetic way. And — not gonna lie — most poems take a lot less time to write and revise and polish than the average short story or novel, and there’s something akin to instant gratification from being able to do that. It doesn’t entirely feed my obsession with productivity, but it does feel pretty good.

From time to time, I teach Creative Writing classes outside of my day job. (A significant portion of which job, to be clear, is to teach Creative Writing.) These classes, which are geared toward a wider audience than my school-year courses, are often taught on Zoom outside of typical business hours, so working adults can take them no matter where they’re located. I’ve had attendees from other cities, other states, and even other countries come together in these workshops. It’s wonderful! (I should also note that there isn’t a specific age requirement to attend.)

So here is one of the upcoming classes I’ll be teaching this fall, for Grackle & Grackle, and I hope to see you in it! Click on the link to learn more and/or to register. (I recommend registering early to secure a spot. We keep these groups kind of small-ish so everyone gets personal attention and workshop time.)

Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined
4 weeks — Tuesday evenings in September

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

Michelle Brittan Rosado wrote that poetry of place “can be a way to dissolve the self into an anonymous landscape” as well as “a map to find ourselves, a space in which to reassemble the annihilated and recover the displaced.” How often has your childhood home been the setting for your dreams?

How often have you returned, in your writing or art or imagination, to the site of a notable first experience? What are the landscapes, real or metaphorical, we have inhabited? What liminal spaces inspire, motivate, or even unsettle us? The places which have mattered most to us live in our subconscious mind long after they stop being physically part of our lives. In this four-week class, we will look at poetry grounded in places both real and imagined. We will dissect both what makes a poem resonate with a reader and what makes particular locations so important to us.

In this generative workshop, we’ll use a variety of prompts to experiment with form and style. You can expect to write new poetry each week and have at least two of your poems workshopped in a collaborative and respectful setting.

***

So, a few typical questions:

Q:  What if I can’t be there every week?
A:  This workshop is four sessions, but if you’re unable to make all of them, you can still participate, and I’ll catch you up on the course materials you miss.

Q:  Is this class for beginners or more advanced poets?
A:  Both emerging writers and published poets will find this course productive and useful. Because my workshops are generative (i.e. we will generate new writing in each session), I use open-ended prompts that will be useful at multiple skill levels. And as a teacher, I strive to meet each student where they are.

Q:  What format will each session follow?
A:  I try to keep things flexible, but generally you can expect some discussion of already published work to explore technique and substance, at least one writing prompt and time to work on it, and a discussion of attendees’ own work in a respectful and supportive atmosphere. Content topics will vary from week to week, centered around a particular theme.

Q:  Okay, but why should I be trying to take a poetry class in these bonkers times?
A:  What better way to reflect on your experiences and reactions to them than through a guided, focused lens that allows you to compartmentalize and process them in a specific, finite block of time?

Here again is the link to learn more about and to sign up for this course. I hope you will join us!

Two Poetry Workshops Happening This Month (A FEW SPOTS STILL OPEN)

There are still some spots open in the two poetry workshops I’m teaching this month, in case you were interested in signing up for them but haven’t yet. Both will be taught on Zoom, so covid surges and geographical distances are not a problem here.  😉

Daily Dose of Poetry is a one-night-only experience through Write About Now as part of their Monday night poetry class series. You can do just mine — happening TOMORROW, June 13th — or get a bundle of weeks at a discount. In this generative workshop, we’ll try our hand at several different poetry prompts designed to kickstart your writing or refresh your writing practice if you’ve been away from it for a while. Each exercise is also translatable, to duplicate or adapt on your own after the workshop ends. You will also get a chance to share and/or workshop what you write during class. Click here for more details and to get the link to register: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/wan-academy-daily-dose-of-poetry-w-angelique-jamail-tickets-254249686657?aff=ang

 

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined is a four-week workshop through Grackle & Grackle. We’ll be meeting on Tuesday evenings starting this week, June 14th. In this generative and feedback-oriented workshop, we will look at ways poetry inhabits landscapes both literal and figurative and create poems along that theme. You can expect to write new poetry each week and to have at least two of your poems workshopped in a respectful and supportive environment over the course of the four weeks. (And if you’re able to attend most but not all of the sessions, don’t let that stop you from signing up, as I’m happy to share materials with you if you’re absent.) G&G is also great about offering discounts on their classes, too, so if you need one, try these: 15% sun; 25% squawk; 35% sweat. Click here for more information and to register:  https://grackleandgrackle.com/product/ajsu22poetry/

I hope to see you in either or both of these workshops! Feel free to share with others who might also be interested.

Monday Earworm: Lana Del Rey

It is most emphatically summertime here in my fair city. School is out, at least for many of us. Temps in the mid-90s with a real-feel of over 100, and hurricane season is underway, even if the Texas Gulf Coast won’t likely see a ton of action for a while yet.

So here’s a sultry little swing for early June, courtesy of Lana Del Rey.

And in case you’re looking for some fun workshops to indulge in this month, I’m still teaching a few. My zine workshop (in-person) through Writespace starts Thursday. My one-night-only Daily Dose of Poetry kickstart is online Monday evening next week via Write About Now. And I’m doing a four-week poetry workshop online through Grackle & Grackle starting next Tuesday evening. (Let me know if you want some great discounts on the registration for that one.) All workshops will be generative in nature and will include feedback on your work. Click on those links to register for any and all!

Where, What, and When I’ll Be Teaching in June

So it’s a known fact that I no longer teach summer school. I haven’t for many, many years, because I need that time to focus more on my writing. However, I will be teaching some brief Creative Writing workshops this summer for three marvelous CW organizations, and YOU can take them! Yes, that’s right! And since I’ve had a fair number of questions about them, I’m just going to distill all the information into this post now for you. I will list them in order of when they begin. Enjoy.

CLASS #1: Creating a Zine (a.k.a. “Zines: The Ultimate Adventure in Creative Control”)
WHEN: 4 Thursday evenings, June 9-30, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Writespace — IN PERSON — in Houston

DESCRIPTION: Have you been looking for a way to share your short writings, including ones you’ve created in other Writespace workshops? The subversive, underground art form of the “zine” (short for fanzine) has been the literary world’s best-kept secret for nearly a century. From its roots in science-fiction and fantasy to its established presence in the modern world as a place for art, poetry, and politics, these informal magazines are the ultimate adventure in self-publishing. And best of all, zines are for everyone, every interest, every ability level, and every subject! You need not be a great or experienced artist. Come explore the wide and diverse world of zines through creative writing, art, and craft with award-winning published author Angélique Jamail, the creator of the popular zine Sonic Chihuahua. In this course, you will create your own zine filled with whatever your imagination will allow! This class is appropriate for all skill levels. Attendees will also have an opportunity to participate in Zine Fest Houston, a welcoming mainstay of the zine community, in November.

(Apologies to all those who really want to take this class but who live outside of Houston. If there’s enough interest in my offering a Zoom version in the future, let me know, and I’ll see about making that work. You can leave a note in the comments section of this post or contact me about it directly.)

REGISTER FOR “CREATING A ZINE” BY CLICKING HERE. (The deadline for early bird pricing is Friday, June 3rd.)

CLASS #2:  Daily Dose of Poetry
WHEN:  (one night only!) Monday, June 13th, 6:00-7:30 p.m. (central time)
WHERE:  ON ZOOM through Write About Now as part of their weekly poetry workshop series

DESCRIPTION:  In this class participants will use short poems and exercises as models for writing poetry and poetic fragments, and will practice techniques to increase observation and lyrical thinking. We’ll look at mentor texts and have a discussion on language and form. We’ll also have exercises in metaphor and imagery. Attendees will get a chance to write short form poems and use the techniques covered in class to enhance their daily writing practice.

REGISTER FOR “DAILY DOSE OF POETRY” BY CLICKING HERE.

CLASS #3:  Poetry: Grounded in Place But Not Confined
WHEN:  4 Tuesday evenings, June 14 – July 5, 6:00-9:00 p.m. (central time)
WHERE:  ON ZOOM through Grackle & Grackle

grackle painting by Kerry James Marshall

DESCRIPTION:  Michelle Brittan Rosado wrote that poetry of place “can be a way to dissolve the self into an anonymous landscape” as well as “a map to find ourselves, a space in which to reassemble the annihilated and recover the displaced.” How often has your childhood home been the setting for your dreams? How often have you returned, in your writing or art or imagination, to the site of a notable first experience? What are the landscapes, real or metaphorical, we have inhabited? What liminal spaces inspire, motivate, or even unsettle us? The places which have mattered most to us live in our subconscious mind long after they stop being physically part of our lives. In this four-week class, we will look at poetry grounded in places both real and imagined. We will dissect both what makes a poem resonate with a reader and what makes particular locations so important to us. In this generative workshop, we’ll use a variety of prompts to experiment with form and style. You can expect to write new poetry each week and have at least two of your poems workshopped in a collaborative and respectful setting.

Grackle & Grackle also offers discounts to those who need them. (The following discounts are followed by their promo code words.)
15% sun
25% squawk
35% sweat

REGISTER FOR “POETRY: GROUNDED IN PLACE BUT NOT CONFINED” BY CLICKING HERE.

SO! I hope to see you at any and/or all of these fun workshops. And please do spread the word about them to anyone you know who might be interested. Thanks!

Come Write Poetry With Me For An Hour

The title of this post is not an exaggeration.

I’m going to be leading a workshop called “Daily Dose of Poetry” on Monday June 13th through WAN (Write About Now) as part of their weekly virtual workshop series, and I’d love for you to join me!

The workshop will be synchronous, live, and interactive on Zoom. It starts at 6:00 p.m. central time and actually lasts until 7:30 p.m. The workshop will be generative and also give you a chance to share the poetry you write in the workshop for feedback or just accolades.

This class is appropriate for all levels: if you are a seasoned writer and want to revive or enhance your practice; if you are newer writer and want more prompts to help you generate ideas; if you just have a lot of thoughts swirling around in your head and aren’t sure how to rein them in so you can get some sleep. There’s something for everyone in Daily Dose of Poetry.

If you want the official course description, here it is:

“In this class participants will use short poems and exercises as models for writing poetry and poetic fragments, and will practice techniques to increase observation and lyrical thinking. We’ll look at mentor texts and have a discussion on language and form. We’ll also have exercises in metaphor and imagery. Attendees will get a chance to write short form poems and use the techniques covered in class to enhance their daily writing practice.”

And if you subscribe to WAN, I think there’s even a discount on the already quite low registration fee. Here are the other workshops being offered in June:

So come join me on June 13th! Register here for the event on Eventbrite. I look forward to this relaxed and low-stress poetry party with you!

National Poetry Month: One Last Post For This Year

Hey there! Earlier this month I posted an invitation for people to send me Book Spine Poems (a type of found poem) that they’d constructed, and I want to share this one by Chuck Wemple.

Speedboat

My Uncle Napoleon
The wave in the mind
The traveling circus

Bad girls of the Arab world
The face of war
Last night at hot slit
Our women on the ground

Against interpretation

***

Thank you to Chuck, and to everyone who participated in this year’s National Poetry Month celebration here at Sappho’s Torque! It was a real pleasure to feature so many excellent poems. 

Also, I’m already curating next year’s Poem-A-Day series (!!!) so if you have a poem you’d like me to consider for it, drop me a line in the comments or via email: forest [dot] of [dot] diamonds [at] gmail [dot] com.

And now I’m going to go rest a little bit and try to get caught up with my semester, which is rapidly drawing to a frenetic close. Monday Earworms will resume tomorrow, and I’ll be sure to update you on how things are going with my family’s LLS campaign and my efforts to excavate myself from the stack of grading that appears to have buried me.

Cheers, y’all.