I’m Not Ashamed to Admit…

There’s a link floating around Facebook that takes you to a list of books you should be probably be embarrassed to admit to reading. I ticked off sixteen out of the hundred. My score would have been way higher if they’d listed every book by some of the authors, particularly John Grisham and Jackie Collins.

I’m not one to brag about having read anything, mostly because I read for pleasure and really hate the idea of judging anyone for what they do for pleasure. (Plucking the heads off kittens and equally disgusting and bizarre hobbies would be the exceptions here.) Continue reading

Looking Ahead

reading-writing-resolving-1Every January I tell myself I’m going to post about my writing goals for the year—and then I don’t. Admittedly, I wondered if anyone would care about what I was up to. Right now, though? This post is for me. My whole blog is pretty much for me. ❤ So here’s a resolution post with an outline for some reading goals, some personal goals and quick ramble about all the books I’d like to write. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading

I could have skipped this update and rolled the books into my yearly list of Favourite Things, but there are seven books on this list and they’re all titles I want to talk about and recommend now. I have a hard enough time choosing just a handful at the end of the year as it is. 😉

Dinner at Jack’s31849349 by Rick R. Reed

What I love most about Rick Reed’s books is that they’re love stories. The romance never feels rushed for the sake of getting to the good stuff. More, we get time to get to know the characters—who they are, who they want to be. Who they will be together. Another aspect of Rick’s books I really enjoy is the feeling he is sharing a part of his life with us. Either someone he once knew or someplace he’s been. There’s a sense of reality to most of his stories and, whether my observations are true or not, I feel I get to know the author a little better with each read. Continue reading

What I’ve Been Reading

I’m at 196/200 on my Goodreads challenge this year. Here are the highlights of the last month or two:

FredThe Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes

Fred is disappointed by his un-death. Vampires are supposed to be gloriously uninhibited, glamorously dark and gruesomely adept at, well, just about everything. He fails at the most basic level: feeding himself. But Fred is an awesome accountant and that is what keeps him going when his heart stops beating.

I loved Hayes approach to the paranormal. Through Fred, he dispels many myths about the supposed monsters in our midst with a tone of self-depreciation. Magic still plays by the rules and there are scary Others, but there is also Albert, who is the sweetest Zombie you are ever likely to meet. Seriously, he’s adorable. I wanted to adopt him by the end of the book. Fred is obviously taken by him also, as by the end of his numerous adventures, he acquires a posse of supernatural friends, each more freakish than the last.

The Utterly Uninteresting and Unadventurous Tale of Fred was an Audible Daily Deal. Hayes gives Fred such a fantastic voice, I’d have enjoyed reading this as much as I did listening. Highly recommended for fans of paranormal with a hefty slice of humour.

LexiNo One Lives Twice (Lexi Carmichael Mystery, #1) by Julie Moffett

I loved almost everything about this book: the characters, the plot and, most importantly, Lexi. Her voice drew me right in. She’s quirky, but not too quirky; geeky, but not so out there regular folks can’t connect. She’s just the right combination of kick-ass and naiveté, with both extremes extended to a believable degree.

The plot is intriguing, and though the mystery aspect is revealed methodically along the way, the action keeps the pace flowing, right up until the last page.

Then there are the three main men: Slash, Finn and Elvis. The flirtation between all these characters was just enough to add spice, to make you wonder who might be Lexi’s match. I look forward to seeing her figure that out—or not—as the series continues.

GlitterlandGlitterland (Glitterland #1) by Alexis Hall

My Goodreads review: A tad wordy, but I laughed and I sniffled. Wonderful characterisation. (What? I’m never wordy. Why would you say that…)

This book deserves many more words (that’s not a joke), but when I wrote the review, I was probably in the middle of revisions or edits and just about out of words. So here are some more thoughts:

I love the way Alexis Hall writes. His characters are engaging and absorbing. Before you know it, you’re drawn into their story and their world, even if you don’t have a lot in common with either. This happened with Prosperity, which was like nothing else I’d ever read (this is a good thing), and it happened again with Glitterland.

Books with severely depressed heroes aren’t something to take lightly, but I’m a firm believer of everyone deserving a story, and everyone deserving a happy ever after (if you didn’t know I was a romantic by now, you’ve been reading someone else’s blog). What makes this book work are three things: Sensitivity, humour and hope. Though Ash goes to some dark places, there is always the hope he’ll come out the other side.

Then we have Darian, who is utterly and disarmingly wonderful.

DarkThe Dark Between the Stars by Kevin J. Anderson

‘The Saga of the Seven Suns’ is the very definition of space opera, so I’m thrilled Kevin J. Anderson has returned to this universe. My enjoyment of this first book in the new trilogy is due in no small part to the narration of Mark Boyett. He does an amazing job of rendering tone and emotion.

It’s been a few years since I read the last book of the previous saga, yet when I dove into this book, the complete story came rushing back to me—and not just because Anderson does a fantastic job of layering in previous events. His universe is complex and coherent. It’s easy to dwell in and a delight to return to. As a writer, I’m jealous of it. It’s so complete!

Anyway, The Dark Between the Stars picks up twenty years after the end of the elemental war. There is a new threat on the horizon which may require all of the galaxy’s inhabitants to work together. Not enough time has passed for the elemental races to be at peace, however. Many of the wounds are still fresh.

As always, there are a number of personal stories threaded through galactic events, weaving a rich tapestry of plot and emotion. As a reader, I care about these people! Anderson also delivers some shocking blows this time ‘round.

I just finished the second book in the trilogy, Blood of the Cosmos, and need the next book ASAP!

WardedManThe Warded Man (Demon Cycle, #1) by Peter V. Brett

At first, I wasn’t sure I’d like this. The story starts out with a young protagonist, Arlen at age ten. The idea of reading his life didn’t excite me. I was looking for a ‘grown up’ novel. Then I got caught up by the soap opera of village life and met the other two main characters, Leesha and Rojer. By then, Arlen’s future was in peril and I had to read on.

Despite the quick progression of years, the characters are ‘grown up’ at very young ages. Their days are hard and their nights are cruel. The demons stalking the land every night have just as devastating an effect during the day, imprisoning the populace with fear.

Engrossing, emotionally absorbing and, at times, more exciting than is healthy. 🙂 And there’s an impossible love affair. Oh, and a hint this world didn’t always exist in such a primitive state.

I’ve already read the next two books in this series—The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold and The Desert Spear—and am booking time to continue on to The Daylight War. The Desert Spear was a slower read as it covers much of the same ground as the end of The Warded Man, but it is a good and necessary retelling!)

KeepsPlaying for Keeps (Glasgow Lads, #1) by Avery Cockburn

This one is the surprise entry! I picked Playing for Keeps up last week after seeing a tweet about it being free (for a limited time). To be honest, I’m usually a little leery of self-published books, but I really liked the cover and having just finished reading Kate McMurray’s Rainbow League books (which are very entertaining), I found myself still in the mood to read about sweaty, sexy, sporty men.

First things first, this book is well written and well edited (in my humble opinion). Had I paid the $2.99 cover price, I’d not have been disappointed. Secondly, it’s a damned good story! The series is based around a Scottish LGBT football club, the Warriors. Fergus is the new captain—a position he inherited when his ex-boyfriend dumped him and the team to run off to Belgium. John approaches the Warriors regarding a charity football match to raise awareness for New Hope, a charity funding refugees from places where their preferences come with a death sentence. Add in the fact Fergus is Catholic (and half Irish) and John is Protestant (and the son of a proud Orangeman) and you have lots of delicious conflict.

I loved several aspects of this story. Fergus and John were wonderful characters—both flawed, both very human. I also liked the way Avery Cockburn dealt with the Scotts dialect. Very readable, with interpretation made very clear by context. I learned a lot about modern Scotland reading the book, which is a plus for me. Finally, the ending is very satisfying in that both characters have to put aside prejudice and preconception to make their relationship work.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book, Playing to Win. Also, I am possessed by the maddening desire to yell “Yaldy!” every time I’m excited.

The A to Z of Favourite Books

I found this meme on Facebook and thought it might be fun to create my own list. It was actually sort of painful.

I used my database on Goodreads to compile this list and some letters had so many books I’d rated with five stars, I had a hard time choosing just one. But in the spirit of not frittering away a good portion of my day and yours by creating a list with a hundred alternates, I stuck to one book for each letter of the alphabet. In most cases, I went with the emotional choice, the book that hit me the hardest and held on the longest. I also tried to avoid repeating authors and series so that my list would span a wider range of authors and books.

Toward the end, I had to get a little more creative—within the bounds of the guidelines set out for the meme—and choose books featuring that letter of the alphabet rather than starting with it.

Agincourt, Bernard Cornwell

Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold

Dune, Frank Herbert

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

Fear City, F. Paul Wilson

Glasshouse, Charles Stross

Hawk Quest, Robert Lyndon

In Me an Invincible Summer, Ryan Loveless

Jhereg, Steven Brust

Kushiel’s Dart, Jacqueline Carey

Legend, David Gemmell

March, Geraldine Brooks

Night of the Hunter, R.A. Salvatore

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi

Paradox, John Meaney

Red Rising, Pierce Brown

Something like Autumn, Jay Bell

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

Ubik, Philip K. Dick

The Valley of the Horses, Jean M. Auel

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, Kate Wilhelm

A Talent for War (Alex Benedict, #1), Jack McDevitt

All the Weyrs of Pern, Anne McCaffrey

Breach Zone, Myke Cole

If you post your own list, put a link in the comments so I can check it out. 🙂

Silent Communication

Have you happened across two cats sitting together—maybe facing each other, maybe just side on—and had the feeling you intruded on a private conversation? There is something about their posture, as if they had just broken off mid-sentence or are purposely ignoring one another. Either way, there is an overwhelming sense they are communicating, yet they haven’t uttered a sound. People do this too. We tend not to stay silent for very long, though.

You know that saying: nature abhors a vacuum? One of my favourite applications of this is in the mystery/thriller/detective novel when the interviewer provides enough space for the interviewee to feel compelled to fill the silence. Generally, a clue or confession drops into the resulting babble. But just as important is that moment of quiet. We communicate a lot without words. I’m not crafting any new theories, here. Body language is a well explored field. When it comes to writing fiction, however, it’s often difficult to know how much to include.

Dialogue is important in a story, if not only to break up great chunks of telling. A reader doesn’t want to sit in on story time, they want to feel they are a part of the novel and dialogue helps with that. Dialogue tends to read faster, particularly when it’s well done. But just as too little dialogue can slow down a story, too much can be distracting. I don’t know if that’s a personal preference? I’m not an expert on the art of writing, but I read a lot, and I have opinions about what I read. If a conversation goes on for too long, or edges toward an exchange of banter that might be fun for half a page, but is still dragging on two pages later, I get bored. I tune out. I want to know what’s up next.

Sometimes a conversation has to be meander, though. One character isn’t ready to talk, but the other is. Or we have that interviewer/interviewee situation where it’s time for facts to be laid out, or not. This is when body language becomes important. But as one of all of my editors keep telling me, less is more. A shrug can be really telling when used at the right moment, but if the subject has been shrugging all through the scene, it means nothing. He or she is just a shrugger. It could be a nervous twitch, but too many repetitive gestures can be distracting.

So how do we write an effective scene that includes believable pauses, gestures and dialogue? Practice. I haven’t mastered it yet, but I recognize a good scene when I’m reading. Of course, readers all have different attention spans, so what works for me might not work for you. But there is a middle ground. A scene that generally works. I find reading my own scenes aloud helps me gauge the pace and authenticity of the dialogue versus gestures. Of course, my ear is generally attuned to what I want to hear—what I want to get out of a scene, so even that method isn’t perfect.

Body language is deceptively difficult to write. Ever sat down and tried to put into words two cats sitting side by side not talking? I have, and I found myself relying on a lot of cat clichés, or generally accepted knowledge about cats to communicate the scene. It wasn’t until I stripped away what the reader might expect to see and started to put down words describing what I saw that the magic started to happen. The exercise reminded me of one of my first art classes. For six months we used only pencil, charcoal and black ink. For half a year, we interpreted the world in varying shades of grey.

Okay, time for me to get back to stripping all the excess nods and grunts from my current WIP—and trying to replace them with something more subtle, less stock, if they need replacing at all. If you have an exercise, or some insight regarding writing authentic body language, please share!

Featured image is from tumblr. I was unable to track down the original source. I love the idea these two cats are planning a caper, however!

Science Fiction of the 1950s

I have a lot of tattered old paperbacks on my shelves and some of the most forlorn are beloved copies of what I consider science fiction classics. Books that helped define the genre by authors who serve as inspiration for so many writers today. When drafting this post, this was the point where I started listing examples. The list got LONG, so I thought it might be better to link to the fantastic list compiled by Worlds Without End: The Defining Science Fiction Books of the 1950s.

Worlds Without End–aptly named, as I could get lost, have been lost, in that site for hours (without end)–has a neat feature called build your own reading challenge and currently they’re hosting one based on this list. Participants are asked to choose ten books from the decade (1950-1959), one from each year, and then to read them in order, from 1950 forward. After scanning the list and seeing so many of the books I always wanted to read, I decided to sign up.

My science fiction roots curled in pleasure as I checked off the books from that decade that I had already read, one of which has a place in my all time favourite top ten list: The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. Before I start listing all the other books I have read, however, I’ll get to the point and list the books I’ve selected for my challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

1. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (1950)

I’ve read a lot of Asimov, but not this one. Not sure how I managed to skip it, particularly as I liked the movie starring Will Smith–which really doesn’t do the book justice.

2. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (1951)

Another movie I have seen from a book I have not read. I have an interesting relationship with Ray Bradbury. His books are always so beautifully written, but they’re all really kinda scary. Something Wicked This Way Comes ruined carnivals for me for LIFE, well before Stephen King killed clowns for everyone, forever.

3. The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester (1952)

I’m really excited to read this as I picked it up a few months ago when it was an Amazon daily deal or something. I hope I like it as much as I did The Stars My Destination.

4. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

Never met a book by Sir Arthur that I didn’t like, so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this one. Added bonus: I’ve had a copy of this sitting on my To Be Read shelf for years.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Mattheson (1954)

This will be interesting as I did not enjoy What Dreams May Come. I loved the premise, but not the execution. Interesting that this one was made into another movie starring Will Smith, eh? That could almost be another reading challenge. Anyway, I really liked the movie and apocalypses are my thing, so…

 

 

 

 

 

6. The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett (1955)

A book I’ve never heard of by an author I’ve never heard of. This is a double bonus.

7. The Death of Grass by John Christopher (1956)

If this is anything like A Wrinkle in the Skin, I’m going to really enjoy it. On a side note, The City and the Stars and The Stars My Destination were also published in 1956. Talk about a great year.

8. The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham (1957)

This might be the only John Wyndham book I have not read. Time to rectify that oversight.

9. The Languages of Pao by Jack Vance (1958)

Another book I’ve never heard of and probably would never have picked up otherwise. I hope it turns out to be a pleasant surprise.

10. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein (1959)

It’s got to be better than the movie, right? Heinlein is actually one of my favourite authors and I have heard that this book is a great example of his books written for a younger audience. I did consider reading Have Spacesuit – Will Travel for 1958, but wanted to choose a different author for each year.

Which brings me to the alternates list, four more books that I plan to take a look at, if and when I find the time:

 

 

 

 

 

The featured image for this post is the movie poster from one of my favourite novels of definitive science fiction by the always great John Wyndham.