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Best Books of 2014

Books of 2014

When I first posted a call on the best books that people have read for the year on my social media accounts, I was thrilled to see what everyone had to share. Some of the recommended books make it to my 'To Read' list. And, I visit revisit the lists regularly.

For those interested, here are the links to: Best Books of 2012 and Best Books of 2013.

Now, I'm really excited to have a third list to refer to. Thanks again to everyone who contributed!

Personally, I'm glad to have had the opportunity to complete reading about 30 books in 2014. I've read many more, but I don't always finish them.

Some of my favourites include -

In Fiction: 

I didn't get to read a lot of fiction this year, and many were a bit disappointing (including the final book on the Divergent series - Allegiant by Veronica Roth. :(). I'm also glad I finally managed to finish George RR Martin's 'A Feast For Crows' - that was a long and labourious read. I keep stopping and starting it because the story lost me. I decided to persevere. Now, on to Dance With Dragons.

  • 'The Winner's Circle' by Marie Rutkoski - This is the beginning of a new YA series and I was definitely hooked. I can't wait for Book 2 this year. It has been long time since I became this excited about a YA book series, so I'm very pleased to come across Marie's work.
  • 'Stardust' by Neil Gaiman - I know this is an old book and it has even been made into a movie. I've watched bits and pieces of the movie when it came on TV, but this is the first year I sat through the whole thing. And, I'm glad I've managed to read the book as well. Really loved it. Went into my list of 'favourite books of all time' immediately.

In Non-Fiction:

Definitely been reading mostly non-fiction nowadays. Especially art books. Specifically, books on sketching. I probably can dedicate several blog posts just to talk about them. Some of my favourites include: Urban Watercolor Sketching: A Guide To Drawing, Painting, and Storytelling in Color by Felix Scheinberger, Art of Sketching (originally in Spanish, Dibujo de Apuntes) by Sterling Publishing, and The Art of Urban Sketching by Gabriel Campanario.

My favourite business book that I read this year is Get It Done: From Procrastination to Creative a Genius in 15 Minutes A Day by Sam Bennett.

In any case, here are some of the best books of 2014 as recommended by some of my friends...

 

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Best Books of 2013

Best Books 2013

When I asked my friends and contacts on social media last year about the best books that they've read for the year, I didn't quite expect to get so many amazing recommendations. That's why I ended up with my blog post, Best Books of 2012.

With that in mind, I thought I'd repeat the question again this year. And, again, people didn't disappoint! Gotta love friends and contacts who read. 🙂 I'm definitely adding some of these recommendations to my "To Read List" next year. I might even start some of them in the next couple of days, while I take some 'down time' from work during the holidays.

Admittedly, I didn't get to read and note down as much as I would've liked this year. Of course, this is partly to normal busy work-life stuff. And, partly because this is the year I've done a bit more than my usual share of TV and movie watching. No regrets, though. I love reading, but I'm glad to have discovered some really great TV series and movies this year. It's all part of growing as a storyteller.

Anyway, in my case, while I've read a few novels, my reading list this year has been primarily in nonfiction. Two of my favourites this year: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown and Look Both Ways by Debbie Millman.

Also enjoyed It's Not How Good You Are, It's How Good You Want To Be by Paul Arden, as well as 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, Get The Right Things Done by Peter Bregman. These books really resonated with an ongoing theme that I have this year. And, all, supporting my Word of The Year: Focus.

Oh, and yes, I've also read a number of writing books this year. Including Save The Cat, a classic scriptwriting book.

As far as fiction goes, there are no real "wows" for me. But, I still enjoyed reading some of them, including Prodigy by Marie Lu (blogged here), which is Book 2 of the Legend series. I'm still currently reading Champion, which is Book 3.

And, of course, Storm of Swords by George RR Martin, which is Book 3 of the Game of Thrones. Loved this one a lot. But, I'm still kind of stuck with Book 4, as I find this one really slow.

Hmmm... It looks like I may have read more than I realised!

Oh, and a new thing for me this year: I've mostly bought and read ebooks! I've hardly got any new hardcopy books this year. And, while I do still love those hard copies, I must admit that I love the ease of having my books with me all the time. After all, I can easily read them on my computer, tablet, phone, or Kindle reader.

In any case, enough about me and my reading habits. Here are some great books recommended by my friends and contacts. Do share yours in the comments section too, if you have any to add!

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Greatly: July 2013

Daring Greatly by Brene BrownOver the last week or so, I have seen Brene Brown's work referenced by some of my contacts online. When you see that sort of thing mentioned more than once, you kind of pay closer attention.

I think I was particularly interested when the word "greatly" was mentioned. And, how it was linked to vulnerability.

You see, something in my psyche has been reacting to these words a lot lately. It's related to that thing I've been talking about immensities. And stepping out of comfort zones.

So, I ended up checking out Dr Brown's website. And, I downloaded a sample of her book, Daring Greatly (which I later purchased). Then, I watched her very popular TEDx talk.

If you haven't seen Dr Brene Brown 's December 2010 TEDxHouston talk yet, I have embedded it here. Definitely well worth watching. And absorbing.

If that message from the video resonated with you as at did with me, then her book is worth looking into. Just reading this passage from the book already stirred something in me:

"Vulnerability is not knowing victory or defeat, it’s understanding the necessity of both; it’s engaging. It’s being all in.

Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.

When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make.

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be—a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation—with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly."

And, really, that's just a tiny part of it. I have only read the first few chapters of the book, Daring Greatly, and I have already highlighted and noted so many things.

That's why I know that this is definitely my book of the month.

How do I know that this is a message that I know has been knocking me over the head for some time now? This is a quote I have highlighted from another book I was reading last year:

"If you greatly desire something,
have the guts to stake everything on obtaining it."
- Brendan Francis Behan

Very familiar theme, right?

Yes, the universe has been telling me something for some time now. And, I think I am finally ready to listen.

The catch? Daring, dreaming, and desiring greatly obviously come with a price. It means learning what it means to be "all in". Raising the stakes. Stepping into the arena. Being vulnerable.

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The Courage To Imagine Immensities

When the universe tries to tell you something, you don't go ignoring it over and over, right?

But, I do. I really, truly do. A lot.

Because sometimes, I don't like what the universe has to say. Or, I am not sure what to do with the universe's message.

Most of the time, that's okay. We are masters of our destinies and all that, right?

What makes me stop, however, is when the universe seems to start telling me something that I know I have buried inside me. A message that I have given myself, but decided that it was easier to ignore or to put the message aside, than to do anything about it.

This morning, something in the universe wanted to hit me hard on the head with a message that has been going on over and over in my mind for a very long time now. The message's vehicle this time was Debbie Millman's book of essays and "typographic poetry", Look Both Ways.

It was a real in-your-face, sit-up-and-finally-take-notice-will-ya moment, especially when I came upon one of the essays in the book, "Fail Safe":

Excerpt from Fail Safe by Debbie Millman

Reading the passage from that screenshot was almost a direct copy from the private journal pages that I have been writing recently.

You see, I have been writing about moments in my life when I made major decisions that could have completely altered the direction of my life. I keep wondering about the "What Ifs" and "If Onlys" even though I don't think I am living my twilight years just yet.

In other words, I have been feeling restless. Not really sure why because, essentially, I am in a really good place.

I mean, sure, house buying and selling is always stressful. And, running a business is never simple. But, all things considered, I've had it relatively easy.

Life's good.

But, as I reflect on how good life is, that's when it struck me: I found a way to make my life good. Easy. Comfortable. Nice.

Not without problems, mind you. Not stress-free or worry-free by any means.

But, there's That Something that I am missing. That certain hunger. That particular drive.

Maybe I am experiencing some kind of a mid-life crisis as I countdown to the big four-oh.

The thing is, when I read that passage from the essay, I realised that while I love what I do now and I'd like to think that I have achieved a certain level of success in my life, I have made my way here through a series of "safe choices".

Some people will probably think I am insane for saying that, as I don't exactly have a straightforward career path and a traditional life.

I have been through start-up life several times over, one of them leading to a multimillion dollar venture capital roller coaster ride, ending in a small chunk of change that helped to pay a good part of our mortgage (which we are now extending!). I sold art. Completed two masters' degrees. Wrote a book and published in magazines. I married a man from another culture that I only knew for less than a year. I moved and lived in different countries. I travelled the world.

Yet, through all these crazy adventures, I have always held back a part of me.

Or maybe, there are just certain dreams from my childhood that just won't quit.

I told myself before that it's okay to let those dreams go. They're not practical. I am not good enough. Not talented enough to make them real.

But, now I am facing the good life that my husband and I have built together, those old dreams have come back. Telling me that perhaps, now is a good time to start really doing something about them.

Not that they were ever really gone completely. In fact, the reason I got to where I am right now is because I did start out following those dreams.

But, being the queen of back-up plans, I ended up following back-up plans of my back-up plans. So now, I have come to a point where I see that while the work I do are all related to my dreams, I am no longer following the original plan.

Because the original plan was too scary to pursue. And, people told me that I couldn't really do any of it. That I am too foolish if I think I can build a safe, secure life around my dreams.

So, I taught myself to pursue less of those dreams. Create parallel hopes. Back-up plans.

They say it is very telling, the things that make us angry or jealous or sad.

As I look at the lives of people in the same line of work as I am, I don't see myself wanting to do more of what they do or what they accomplish. Yet, when I read blogs, books, articles, and watch features on people whose lives reflect more of what I long for, my heart hurts a little. Every time. I am envious of what they do - not necessarily because of their talent or their mastery. I am happy for their success. But, I envy them for their courage to pursue the life that they really wanted. They dreamt big. They hoped high. They got rid of back-up plans. They were all in.

I'm not sure if I know what it's like to be "all in". I don't know if I would ever know.

Fail safe excerpt

That's why I ended up in tears when I read these words from Ms Millman's essay:

If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time. Start now. Not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now. Now.

Imagine immensities.

Don't compromise.

Don't waste time. Start now.

Reading these reminded me of last year's word of the year, possibility. Admittedly, it's the year I started feeling the restlessness stirring in me.

Indeed, it was universe ignored. Again.

Now, universe is back with the message. I am gathering up the courage to dream those immense dreams. Again. Yes, right now.

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5 Books of the Month

Books of the Month: Prodigy + Creative Books

The month is almost over and I realised that I haven't had the chance to share with you my latest reads since February. And, since I haven't done a Friday Five in a while as well, I thought I'd combine them in this post. Is that clever or just lazy? 😉

Anyway, here are the five books to cover my March and April 2013 reads:

1. Prodigy by Marie Lu

Prodigy is Book Two of the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu. I've been meaning to write about the Legend series since I first came across it last year.

The basic premise: Legend/Prodigy is in the YA dystopian genre. It is similar to Hunger Games, but not quite; probably closer to the concept of Divergent - another series that I've been hoping to share with you. It is set in a future America, where the United States is torn in to different areas and is at war with its neighbours. The main character, June, lives in the western US called the Republic. She is considered to be a "star" citizen, with an affluent background. She is being groomed for a high rank with the Republic. But, when her brother's death led her to face the suspected killer - Day (Republic's Most Wanted Criminal) - and she finds out some things that she did not expect, her life was turned upside down.

Prodigy takes off where Legend ended. To avoid giving you any spoilers, I will not give you a summary. But, let me just say that as far as sequels go, Ms Marie Lu did not disappoint with Prodigy. In fact, while I liked Legend a lot, I probably fell in love with the series and its characters more in Prodigy. Its cliffhanger ending will definitely make you wish for Book Three to come quickly!

Rating: 4.5/5

2. Printing by Hand by Lena Corwin

This is the book that the lovely Christina gave me as a birthday present early this month. Loved it from the start! It's a great present because it's a book that I've been eyeing for some time now. And, it's a great book that supports my growing love for printmaking.

It's a beautiful book with a number of great ideas and projects. There's even a set of templates that you can use, should you wish to use the author's designs that were featured in the book. I'm not sure if I'll be using the templates, as I enjoy making my own. But, it's nice to know that they're there, should I choose to use them for some projects.

I haven't really done any of the projects yet, but they have inspired me to pursue my own projects. So, I'm sure I'll refer to this book when I need some printmaking inspiration.

Rating: 4/5

3. How to Decorate by Shannon Fricke

Interior decorating is something that I wish I can be good at, but instead, I end up feeling quite inadequate. For someone who loves beautiful and creative things, this seems to be quite a shocker. My husband does not understand why I keep claiming to be hopeless at decorating. I don't understand it myself. My only theory is that it's one of the things that I end up feeling too overwhelmed. Decorating a house, a room... just seems too big a job. That's why I often opt for the safer choices. Or just decorate on an "as needs basis".

However, this year, I decided that I'm going to give interior decorating a bit of a better go. Nothing dramatic. Just learn some basic concepts and figure out how I can enjoy the process of making my house prettier without feeling overwhelmed.

That's why I decided to buy this book.

Admittedly, I started feeling overwhelmed again as I began flipping through the pages. Talks of setting up my own studio space for decorating, developing mood boards, and different types of fabric just make me start thinking of how huge it all seems.

I don't want to be an interior decorator. I just want to learn how to decorate my home in a practical, cost-effective way. This book sort of didn't meet that need. Not the author's fault. There are all sorts of lovely inspiration and interesting resources shared in the book. The styles shared are beautiful. The photos by Prue Roscoe are gorgeous. I'll probably look at it and refer to bits and pieces of it every now and then for ideas and inspiration.

But, unfortunately, it isn't the book that could help me to get over my decorating issues. I probably need a "Decorating for Dummies" book instead.

By the way, Amazon says this isn't available with them just yet. Should be out in August 2013.

Rating: 3/5

4. Creative Doodling and Beyond by Stephanie Corfee

I've had this book for almost a year or so now. I enjoyed reading through it and copying some of Stephanie's doodles. They are lovely and whimsical! Stephanie is obviously a very talented artist.

I also think that it's great that the book offered "practice pages" - although it took me a while to get over my reservation on doodling/drawing directly on the book. I haven't practiced all the projects and ideas yet, but I have played with a couple of the concepts shared in this book. It is fun, especially if you're feeling a bit uninspired. I enjoy having it in my personal library.

Rating: 3.5/5

5. Acrylic Solutions: Exploring Mixed Media Layer by Layer by Chris Cozen and Julie Prichard

I bought this book as an ebook from the publisher's website a couple of weeks ago and just loved it. It offered a number of useful and interesting techniques that I'm slowly incorporating in my art. There are no real "step-by-step" tutorials here. In fact, some of the projects laid out in the book can be a bit confusing (an artwork will appear in one section, then re-appear in another section). But, I can overlook some of the book's points because the positive things I gained from this book outweigh the little niggly things.

The artwork in the book is worth looking at over and over (and I have), for inspiration and ideas. They are real examples of the beauty of working in layers with mixed media. Some of them exemplify the type of pieces that I would love to be able to do.

In any case, if you're in to painting/mixed media work, then this is definitely worth having in the collection of art references.

Rating: 4/5

Note: Book titles link to Amazon's affiliate programme, where I may earn some commissions if you purchase using my links.

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