Jen’s Top 10 Favorite Adult Fiction

I thought I would have fun today and do another Top 10 list. Today’s focus: my favorite adult fiction books. This includes a variety of sub genres (fantasy, romance, mystery, etc.). So sit back and enjoy! And if you haven’t read these yet, go read them!

**Warning to lit critics: Please, do not get upset with me. This list is on the lighter and, admittedly, more commercial side of life. But, I assure you, all of these are good/entertaining reads. So, thank you in advance for not judging me too harshly :-).

1. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

tumblr_luaw2lcnxc1qcb6a5The Book of What? Maybe you’ve heard of this book, maybe you haven’t. I happened to discover it while browsing the shelves at The Tattered Cover (the bright red cover popped out at me and I immediately knew I had to have it). It was gamble that paid off. I found myself swiftly ensnared by the 12-year old David and his harrowing journey into adulthood. The whole time I was reading, I was wondering if what David was experiencing was real, or not–if the fantastical adventure he was on was actually happening, or if he was dreaming the whole thing.

In a way, The Book of Lost Things reminds me of a darker, twisted version of C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, only we visit a disturbing fantasy land that’s filled with the fairy tales we thought we knew, but don’t (i.e. Snow White, Rumpelstiltskin, Little Red Riding Hood). It’s been five years since I read The Book of Lost Things and I’m still thinking about it. It’s one of those books I know I’ll have on my bookshelf for the rest of my life.

Read it, read it, read it!

For more details, click here.

2. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

554286I loved this book when I was a child and my dad used to read it to me before bed. I loved this book in high school when I read it for the first time on my own. And I love this book now, years later, when I go back to revisit my favorite Middle-Earth characters and their quirky, adventurous lives.

Now, some of you may be hesitant to pick this book up because you think it’ll be confusing, hard to read, and slow paced. But I assure you, The Hobbit is fun, witty and a swift page turner. It’s a book for all generations, meant to be enjoyed again and again. So go read it! It’s sure to be a classic that stays with you your whole life.

For more details, click here.

3. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 

5826This was one of those subtly amazing books. The type you don’t realize you’ve fallen in love with until you turn the last page and feel empty and lost because it’s over.

From the rebel’s violent attack on the elite dinner party, to the surprisingly poignant relationships formed between terrorists and captives, to the fateful ending, Bel Canto sinks its sweet claws into you and won’t let go. It’s lyrical, enthralling and a true testament to the human spirit. This quote says it best: “That moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback.”

For more details, click here.

4. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein 

3153910Let me start off by saying I love dogs, but I’m not a huge fan of stories about them. To me, they have tragedy and ultimate sadness written all over them. You know–you just know–the dog is going to die. And what’s sadder than a dog dying? Seriously? Whenever I watch a movie and I see a human and dog in mortal peril, I pray for the dog. “Dear God, not the dog. Kill little Billy, but not Fido. Please!”

However, I made an exception for The Art of Racing in the Rain. A good family friend gave it to me as a gift, and after asking me multiple times if I had read it yet, I finally succumbed and read it. And I’m so happy I did! This is a wonderful story, told entirely from the narrative of a wise, funny and philosophical dog, Enzo.

I’m not going to lie, there were sad moments, but there were also many uplifting, heartwarming, cheer-worthy moments. And–after wiping my tears away–I was smiling at the end and telling everyone they needed to read it. So you should too!

For more details, click here.

5. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

7315573I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, which is strange because I love history (shrug). However, Fall of Giants kept me snagged from page one, all the way to page 960. Yes, like Follet’s other epic reads, most notably The Pillars of the Earth, this tale was a doozy. But I couldn’t put it down! In fact, I unthinkingly started it right before I was set to leave for a week-long beach vacation. Since I don’t own a tablet or e-book reader, I made the difficult decision to leave the two-ton book behind and take a couple  lighter, easier to transport ones.

Then, as I was walking out the front door to head to the airport, I realized I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Fall of Giants at home–I swear, it was looking at me like a sad puppy whimpering, “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me”. So, I stuffed it in my bag and shouldered the extra weight. And I don’t regret my decision at all…except for accidentally getting sand and saltwater all over it. Then again, I spilled coffee on it a week later too, so…Poor “puppy”.

Let’s just say Fall of Giants is a well loved book in my household now. And it should be loved in yours too!

For more details, click here.

6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen 

43641I did not want to read this book. I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t! But every time I went to the bookstore or Target or someone’s house, I saw it. It mocked me everywhere I went, torturing me with its colorful cover and proclamations that it was a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Still, I stubbornly refused to buy it. I don’t know why, it just looked dull and boring and blah to me.

Then something terrible happened. I found out Water for Elephants was going to be made into a movie. Curse you Hollywood! I pursed my lips and trudged to the bookstore, determined to read the darn thing, just like I always do whenever a popular book is going to be adapted to the big screen. Book Nerd Rule #1: Always read the book before seeing the movie. Always, always! Even if you’re not planning on seeing the movie, read the book just in case!

So I did. And I loved it. Stupid, beautiful, wonderful Water for Elephants. Your reputation lived up to expectations–exceeded them. Grrr 😉 Don’t resist like I did. Check it out!

For more details, click here.

7. Perfect by Judith McNaught

129617-1Okay, fellas, turn away. I’ve got a romance here–some may even dare to call it a “trash novel”. But, not me. To me, Perfect is far from trash. It’s perfect ;-). The first time I read it was in high school. Since then, I’ve read it AT LEAST five more times. Every couple of years, I can’t resist rereading small town teacher Julie Mathison’s suspenseful, adventurous and heart-fluttering romance with ex-Hollywood superstar-now runaway fugitive, Zachary Benedict. Again and again, this story exhilarates, humors, and enthralls. And it never fails to make my heart skip a beat…or two.

If you end up reading and liking Perfect, make sure you check out Judith McNaught’s other novels (starting with A Kingdom of Dreams…sigh…hee, hee).

For more details, click here.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett 

4667024Yes, of course I included The Help on this list. Because it rocked!

Honestly, I can’t even remember reading this book, or who told me to read it, or why I didn’t resist reading it like I do so many big time, highly publicized books (ahem, Water for Elephants). I just know that I read it and I loved it and I think everyone else should read it too! Plus, from a writer’s standpoint, I love Kathryn Stockett’s personal journey to find this book an agent. Rejection after rejection she refused to give up on it, and she proved to the rest of us struggling writers that if you’re passionate enough to fulfill your dream, you can.

For more details, click here.

9. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith 

2161733I happened to find this book–hardback and brand new–at a garage sale. I paid one buck for it. ONE BUCK! But trust me, it is worth full retail price. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction and I’m not a huge fan of mystery. However, this book was both, and I LOVED it, which proves that it is, indeed, a worthy read. It’s an edge of your seat, stomach-twisting, palm sweating story that keeps you turning page after page. And, as an American, it makes me appreciate my daily freedoms and lifestyle.

For more details, click here.

10. Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella 

75576Once again fellas you may not be keen on this choice of mine, but who knows? Maybe you’re one of those guys who secretly enjoys romantic comedies? (I know there are a lot of you out there, even if you are hiding.) Well, this is by far my favorite chick-lit book. Like most of Sophie Kinsella stories, Can you Keep a Secret? is heart warming, hilarious and, at times, utterly ridiculous. But, I love its goofy premise and especially its shake-your-head-and-roll-your-eyes-at characters.

This is one book I wish they’d make into a movie. I think it would be outstanding on the big screen. I know I’d definitely pay to go see it (after making sure everyone reads the book first, of course).

For more details, click here.

So, that’s it! I’m certain this list will change over time as I read more books, but for now, these are my favorite adult fiction books. Hope you add them to your TBR list!

How about you? What are your personal favorites?

Victory. First round of Flash Fiction Challenge 2013 complete.

So, as most of you know by now, I entered NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Challenge 2013. This is a “competition that challenges writers around the world to create short stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments. Each writer will participate in at least 2 writing challenges and as many as 4 depending on how well they place in each challenge. When the competition begins, writers are placed in groups where they will be judged against other writers within their same group. Each group receives its own unique genre, location, and object assignments.”

This weekend, the competition kicked off. And I was DEFINITELY challenged!

I awoke Saturday morning, excited and nervous to open my email and see what my first challenge assignment was. I wasn’t too worried about what my location or object might be–those things are malleable and fun. I was, however, terrified to see what my genre would be. My comfort zones are mainly suspense, fantasy and sci-fi. Horror, even, if I had to. This is what I got:

Screen Shot 2013-09-23 at 9.15.11 AM“BEEPITY-BEEP-BEEP!”

I literally laughed out loud I was so dismayed. Romantic comedy? Dear Lord, save me. I sat staring at my computer, haphazardly running through the few chick-lits I’ve read (all Sophie Kinsella) and the many romantic comedy films I’ve viewed. Both seemed to share the same general formula:

Boy/girl meet. Boy/girl don’t get along and bicker in comedic ways. Boy/girl have an epiphany and start to fall in love. Boy/girl have a BIG fight and stop talking. Boy/girl realize they can’t live without the other. Boy/girl proclaim their love and get married and have many, many babies.

Happily ever after. The end.

Easy, right? Uh, no. This all works when you’re reading a 400-page novel or watching a two-hour movie. There’s time to introduce the couple, connect them in comedic yet endearing ways, formulate a conflict that will eventually drive a dagger between them, and then build a love strong enough to overcome that conflict…all the while building towards an ending that’s satisfying. But how do you do all of that in 1,000 words? In a swamp (hot!)? With an RV (hotter!)?

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I didn’t know how difficult this was actually going to be until I started writing. I made it through my couple’s first meeting and glanced at my word count: 910.

BEEPITY-BEEP-BEEP!

I continued writing anyways. I didn’t have time to be the perfectionist I am. I just needed to get a story down. The chopping and revising could come later. So, I wrote and wrote and wrote, until, finally, I had a story. A crappy story, but a story. Then, I started the nasty process of revising–chopping, adding, chopping more, adding more…I was in a war with my keyboard all day. Finally, around 7 P.M., I had a solid draft. I took a deep breath of relief and sent it to my two critiques–my mom and sister, romantic comedy gurus.

My mom’s initial response? “It’s good. I’ll call you.” (AKA, it sucks and I want to tell you why in the nicest way possible.)

BEEPITY-BEEP-BEEP!

My sister’s response came via email a few minutes later:

Its ok. It feels like you go from her hating him to all of a sudden a connection. I think you’re trying to squeeze too much in. I’m not really sure what to do differently. I guess its just not jaw dropping to me or really even comical. It’s almost as if you need a side kick with her that provides more of a comic relief. The two of them alone is rather weird I think. 

Also, is Ali a guy or a girl alligator? Little confusing.

BEEPITY-BEEP-BEEP!

Okay, time to panic. I’d just spent an entire day writing a story that was no good. I’d wasted almost the first 24-hours of my precious 48-hour timeline for the competition.

Exhausted, hungry and on the verge of tears, I curled up on my couch while my mom came over and tried to assure me the story wasn’t that bad and didn’t need to be totally rewritten–the basic plot just needed some work. I laughed bitterly. When you need to revise the root of a 1,000 word story, you’re rewriting the whole thing. It’s not a novel. It’s not like one chapter sucked. The WHOLE story sucked.

I ate some dinner and calmed down enough to start brainstorming. Throughout the day, as I’d worked on Swampy Crapville (not the actual title…though that probably would’ve been more interesting than the story itself), I kept thinking about a trip to Florida I’d taken with my family. We had to drive from Miami, through the Everglades, to the Gulf Coast (that’s the most swampland I’ve ever seen; we don’t have real swamps in Colorado.). As we drove past the dense, misty, jungly marshland, we kept asking each other, “How much money would it take for you to hike a mile through that?” It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but staring at those swamps with all those vines and bugs and snakes, we agreed it would take at least a million bucks.

I mentioned this memory to my mom. As she chuckled, I started thinking about it more and more, and before I knew it, I had a brand new concept for my story. I pitched it to my mom. She loved it. So, I started writing, reading her excerpts as I went. She was laughing and nodding at everything I wrote. I suddenly felt much calmer knowing I at least had a doable concept. After she left, I kept writing. By midnight, I had a complete rough draft (500 words too long, but whatever). Unable to keep my eyes or brain awake, I went to bed.

Tension and anxiety woke me up at 5 A.M. I could feel the clock ticking.

559122_414391018618526_1399407193_n1I got up and went downstairs to start revising. A few hours later, I had to stop because I volunteer in my church’s nursery every third weekend (and, as fate would have it, that was this weekend…grrr). The unwanted interruption turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because when I returned home, I was able to revise freshly, quickly and efficiently. I sent my mom the first full draft of Muck and Mire. Her response: ok!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ten million times better- I love it.

PHEW!!

Talk about a relief! With her hard won approval, I started the revising process again (chop, chop, add, add, chop, chop). I whittled the story down from 1,300 words to 998. I sent it back to her. Approved. SUCCESS! I took a brief break before doing one final read-through. Then I took the plunge and submitted it. The moment I hit the send button, I felt like a bag of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I was so happy, thankful, grateful…It was over! I’d finished.

Now, is it the best story of all time? Noooo. Will it win this first round of the competition? NOOO! Honestly, I’m not even sure if I’ll place high. I took a risk with the format and it could either hurt me or help me. I just don’t know. But I do know that I’m proud of myself for accepting the challenge, finishing it, and turning in a story that I feel good about. I thought it was funny and–hopefully–romantic enough to qualify it as a “romantic comedy”.

Due to certain parameters and precautions of the competition, I won’t be posting the story quite yet, but here’s the brief synopsis:

A popular TV show unites two strangers, Jack Sharp and Lucy James, as they race against other teams across the Shitsowami Swamp for ten million dollars. Inside the misty bogs, the pair discover snakes, gators and even love.  

Fingers crossed! And, as always, good vibes and prayers are appreciated 🙂