open books, grass

Summer Reading Report

Summer is definitely in the rearview now, so I thought I would report on how I did with my list of intended summer reads.

I’m happy to say I finished reading all the books I named in my June 12th post. And a few others besides.

Here are one-sentence reviews (an exercise in brevity inspired by horror writer Priscilla Bettis). The book titles link to my full reviews on Goodreads.

Sunwielder by D. Wallace Peach
In vivid, graphic prose, this book tells the story of a farmer turned soldier in a brutal and endless war, who receives a gift that grants him a unique relationship with death.

Best Friends and Other Lovers by J.F. Kaufmann
A trio of spicy love stories, including a Christmas-themed tale that warms the heart as well as… other places.

Sailing to Redoubt by C. Litka
A delightful old-fashioned adventure story in which an aspiring archaeologist finds himself on a sailboat in tropical seas with a pair of enigmatic twin sisters.

The Daemoniac by Kat Ross
A twisty mystery in which a whip-smart young woman detective races around 1880s New York City to track down a diabolical killer who may not be human.

The Journey by Suzanne Miller
A hopeful post-apocalyptic story in which two young people seek healing and truth in a world devastated by climate change.

Alchemy by Mark Ryan
A sparse but intriguing story about an alchemist, unfortunately diluted by long sections of passionate poetry.

The Two-Blood Legacy by J.F. Kaufmann
A detailed paranormal romance and family saga about gorgeous werewolves, wizards, and vampires in the present-day western U.S.

Hope by Terry Tyler
A compelling and frighteningly realistic dystopian thriller in which a young woman becomes enmeshed in the heartless machinery of a near-future UK engaged in brutal social engineering.

Those were the books on my list, but I actually read several more.

Surviving Sanctuary by P.J. O’Brien
A very long (nearly 500K words) but exceedingly engaging book in which a young American man looking for an ex-girlfriend’s missing sister visits a country (that doesn’t exist, but should) and learns a great deal about its customs and history. (Full disclosure: I started reading it quite a while before summer began.)

All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack
Reviewed in an earlier post.

A Year in the Life of Leah Brand by Lucinda E. Clarke
A page-turner about a woman having a really bad year that jolted me from schadenfreude to sympathy and back.

The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
A fun read about children with special talents on a secret mission that was just the thing to read while recovering from That Virus.

The Necromancer’s Daughter by D. Wallace Peach
A dramatic and beautifully written fantasy set in a gorgeously realized world that is not without perils, especially to those with the power to heal death.

Now back to the TBR!

Plants in Dining Nook: Hoya, Swedish Ivy, small Tradescantia, and Amaryllis

Hello Hoya!

More than 30 years ago, I was given a Hoya plant. Hoya carnosa is the botanical name; it’s also known as porcelain flower or wax plant. These names were likely suggested by the flowers. They do look as though made from porcelain, and have a waxy appearance.

My plants (I have two, both clones of the original) are variegated. Their leaves are mainly green, but with white margins or streaks. An occasional leaf is pure white, and new ones often have pink shadings as well. Until recently, I had never seen a bloom. I assumed something about the situations I gave the plants was not conducive to producing blooms, and simply admired their leaves.

To be honest, the hoyas are awkward plants. They produce incredibly long stems which should have something to twine around. Or they ought to be grown as hanging plants. One of mine sits on a windowsill with its stems taped to the window frame with green painter’s tape. The other one is on top of a filing cabinet. One stem is tied to a bamboo stake, the other is attached to the top of a window frame with (you guessed it) more painter’s tape.

Several weeks ago, I noticed an odd thing on one of the stems. It looked alarmingly like a spider, but on closer inspection turned out to be a cluster of flower buds. Great rejoicing followed on my part, plus daily inspections and more tape applied, to make sure the bud-bearing stem was well supported.

Hoya flower cluster, unopened
This was a couple of weeks after I first noticed the buds. They had grown considerably. Notice what might be another bud near the lowest piece of tape.
Hoya flower cluster, unopened
You can see why it’s called wax plant.

Eventually, the flowers opened, all at once.

Hoya flower cluster

You can see why it’s called porcelain flower. They stayed in good shape for two or three weeks, then suddenly turned brown and dried up, again all at once. Hoyas are said to have a strong scent, and indeed another plant (not variegated) owned by the person who gave me mine had a spicy scent. I couldn’t detect any smell from my plant’s flowers, however, except maybe a faint chocolate aroma. (I was still recovering from covid at the time, though.)

I’ve noticed two tiny proto-buds on this plant. I tell myself they’re getting bigger, so maybe there will be more blooms from this hitherto reluctant bloomer.

The Best Formats for Reading Different Types of Writing

I recently finished reading an ebook that is a mashup of prose and poetry. It began with a short chapter introducing a character, setting, and situation, followed by a lengthy section of poetry–a couple of dozen fairly short poems. This pattern was repeated four more times. The story continued in each of the subsequent chapters and came to a conclusion, but every chapter also included a thick layer of poetry.

This didn’t work for me at all. I was engaged by the story opening and wanted to read more. The poems were like a detour on a muddy road. I read only to get through them, which is not the way to read poetry. Why didn’t I read all the prose sections and then return to the poetry? Because the author deliberately arranged the writing in this particular way, so I read it as intended. If it had been a printed book, I may have flipped ahead, but it was an ebook. I don’t like jumping around in ebooks; it’s too much of a production compared to print.

I mention this reading experience because it made me think about the best vehicle for different types of writing. I also think about this when I’m reminded of Amazon KDP’s new option of publishing in hardcover as well as paperback. (By the way, I have no intention to publish any of my books in hardcover.)

So, what sort of writing is each format best suited for?

Hardcover Print

I think hardcover is best for works that will get a lot of use and be kept indefinitely, mostly books used for study or reference. This function is now largely performed on the internet, so the need for such books is diminishing.
I still use a few reference books. If I need to refresh my memory on pruning or planting something, I don’t want to fire up the computer or fiddle with my phone with garden-grubby hands. But the old hardcover books I’ve been using for decades are readily available, and robust enough to handle a bit of dirt. Another type of book that’s probably still in use is the cookbook, for similar reasons, except instead of dirt we have butter or batter.
And, I suppose, venerable tomes such as sacred books and eternal classics may be best enshrined in hardcover format, if only because they tend to be quite large.

Paperback Print

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

To me, this is the best form for much nonfiction and for poetry. Nonfiction with photographs, maps, tables, etc. isn’t well-served by the ebook format, but paperback usually works quite well. Many trad-pubbed books are published first as hardcovers, then as paperbacks. Paperback is perfect for poetry, especially those “slim volumes.” For the really slim, there are also chapbooks, which are a more fragile type of paperback. A small book is physically undemanding and may be dipped into when the mood takes one. Paperbacks are lighter than hardcovers, and congenial to handle, without hard surfaces and sharp corners.
When I find a novel I value enough that I want my own copy in print form, I buy it in paperback. That feels permanent, unlike electronic texts, which depend on technology. This is why I’ve published all the books I’ve written in print as well as ebook form.
Trade paperbacks” are now the standard for this format. They range in size from 5″x8″ to 6″x9″. Since the turn of the millennium, so called “mass-market” paperbacks (4.25″x7″), once popular for genre fiction, have largely given way to electronic format.

Ebook

Kindle e-reader

The format of choice for reading fiction (and some nonfiction) for entertainment and diversion. Hundreds of books can be loaded onto a small, lightweight device. Fonts can be adjusted and resized. Lighted screens permit reading in dark rooms. And nosy people can’t see what you’re reading. The only downsides are the need to recharge the battery and (in my opinion) the limited ability to page-flip and look back. Yes, you can do word searches, but that makes a simple process too much trouble to bother with in most cases.
I don’t think ebooks are the best format for poetry. Maybe because so many printed poetry books are beautifully designed, which adds to the reading experience. Also, one doesn’t tend to burn through volumes of poetry; it’s a more contemplative form of reading.
When I leave an ebook on a page for longer than the usual time it takes to read it, I’m always conscious of the invisible timer that will close the reader and require it to be turned on again to keep reading. It’s not a big deal, but somehow it imparts a feeling of urgency incompatible with reading poetry.

Audiobook

Photo by Sound On on Pexels.com

Here I admit to lack of experience. I don’t use audiobooks. To me, listening to an audiobook isn’t reading; it’s being read to. That can be a pleasant experience, with the addition of the listener being in control. You wouldn’t want to ask a person reading to you to repeat something, but with an audiobook, it’s just a matter of clicking a few buttons. (As with ebooks, though, going back, flipping ahead, or looking for something specific must be more complicated than with printed books.)
My perception is that listening to an audiobook must be slower than reading print. Slower, and yet more difficult to absorb because you can’t instantly reread a sentence or paragraph. Because of this, I think they may be a good way to enjoy books one knows and loves, especially if the reader’s voice and style are congenial.

Fellow readers, which formats do you prefer for different types of writing and different reading situations? Have you published your own books in hardcover or audiobook?

Featured image from Pexels.

Red, orange, and green tomatoes, August 2021

Wednesday Weirdness: Tomato Face

Tomato with blossom end rot that looks like a face
One of the first red tomatoes this year. It has a touch of Blossom End Rot, with a somewhat creepy effect.

The problem is said to be caused by a calcium deficiency and/or insufficient watering. I added lime to the soil for the tomatoes and have been watering assiduously, so the rest of them are mostly okay.

Pink dahlia and blue Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)

Summer’s End

It’s over…

Yes, I know summer doesn’t officially end for another 2.5 weeks. But according to the meteorological reckoning of seasons, as opposed to the astronomical one, summer ended with the month of August.

I am happy to kiss it goodbye. Summer had a late start here, but once it got going, it delivered a moderate heat wave almost every week. Nights were relatively warm too, so cooling the house (no a/c here!) was a bit of a project. It worked like this: first thing in the morning, open every window and door and get fans going to pull in the cool air of dawn. Once the outside temp starts to climb, shut all those windows and doors as well as curtains and blinds. This would keep the house at least 5 (Fahrenheit) degrees cooler than the peak outdoor temp. As soon as the outdoor temp dropped below the indoor one (usually by 7 or 8 p.m.), we opened everything up and got fans going again. Tedious, but fairly effective.

Now, I recognize that temperatures in the low to mid 80s (degrees F) are not considered super hot by many, but our “normal” maximum high temperature is 22C (72F). And most of us lack air conditioning. Hence the whining. And while I’m doing that, I’ll just add that there has been no rain at all since early July, so I’ve been best friends with watering cans, hoses, and sprinklers.

Blue Lacecap Hydrangea August 2022
This hydrangea now has its own soaker hose, so performed beautifully this summer.
Blue Lacecap Hydrangea August 2022

The Scarlet Bishop

Red Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff"
Dahlia “Bishop of Llandaff”

One of my two dahlias (the other is the pink one in the featured image at the top of the post) is this scarlet variety called “Bishop of Llandaff.” It’s named after an actual person, and has been cultivated in gardens since 1924. The contrast between the bright flowers and the dark foliage adds to its appeal.

I have several plants. Three are planted in the ground, and have survived the winters. The ones in pots winter in the basement. They grow much better than the ones in the ground; this year the tallest branches exceeded 5 feet (pot included).

Red Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" closeup
Red Dahlia "Bishop of Llandaff" closeup with bee
Bees like the Bishop too!

I know there will likely be more warm days, but the sun sets earlier and rises later. The fog bank in the Strait of Juan de Fuca is swelling and drifts onto the land at times. Autumn is on the doorstep, and I’m ready to welcome it.

botanical books with illustrations of plants, old camera, old map

Stress on Which Syllable? Pronouncing Botanical Latin

There is a small scene in my novel Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, in which two characters are talking about plants they’ve seen on a recent walk around the (fictitious) island on which the story is set. One of them rattles off several botanical names and asks whether he has pronounced them correctly. The other character (who is the narrator) responds by saying, “I must admit, I sometimes hesitate to say the Latin out loud. So often, there’s someone eager to jump in and correct one’s pronunciation. ‘No, my dear, the accent should fall on the first syllable.’ That sort of thing.”

That sort of thing probably occurs regularly in gatherings of serious gardeners, such as garden clubs and exhibitions. Most of my communication about plants happens on this blog, where all I have to worry about is spelling those sometimes lumpy botanical names. And italicizing them, of course.

Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering about pronunciation. Like language in general, botanical Latin has its quirks. For example, many genus names are based on people’s surnames. Botanists’ names, I assume. Bergenia, Dahlia, Fuchsia, Mahonia. Lurking behind these pseudo-Latin monikers are dudes named Karl August von Bergen, Anders Dahl, Leonhart Fuchs, and Bernard McMahon.

But consider how those Latin genus names are usually pronounced: BerJEENia, DAYlia, FYOOshia. To be honest, I’m not sure whether the last one is MaHOnia or MahoNEEia, but I do know that Bernard’s surname was likely pronounced in a way that could be rendered as McMaan.

Maybe my suggested genus name pronunciations are not official, but only the way garden variety gardeners pronounce them. Maybe serious botanists simply add “-ia” to the correctly pronounced surnames? Somehow I doubt it, even though I don’t frequent gatherings of such individuals.

A few weeks ago, I attended an event at the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific. There was a plant sale. Even though my garden is full to bursting, I actually bought two plants. One of them was labelled Tweedia caerulea. Wikipedia tells me the correct name is actually Oxypetalum coeruleum. I think I’ll stick to Tweedia, as it’s easier to pronounce. Now all I have to worry about is making sure the little plant survives the winter, as its native region is southern Brazil to Uruguay. Its flowers are an unusual shade of blue, and of course I’m a sucker for blue flowers.

Oxypetalum caeruleum, Tweedia caerulea
From Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

For those who fret about pronunciation, this article is somewhat reassuring: Pronouncing Botanical and Latin Names from the University of Washington.

Featured image from Pexels.

Several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks

Why I Like Long Books

One of the benefits of publishing in today’s milieu is that book length is no longer as rigid it was in the days of print-only, trad-only publishing. Especially in the case of ebooks, where length is measured in time needed to read a book, rather than its physical bulk. If a writer is inspired to create in short forms, they shouldn’t hesitate to publish those works, or consider them inferior because they’re short.

pocket watch and book

Short fiction ranges from micro or flash (a few hundred words or less), through short stories (1,000 to 10,000 words) to novellas and novelettes (10,000 to about 50,000 words). Some say a novel has to be at least 80,000 words, but I figure anything over 50,000 may squeak into that category, as a “short novel,” perhaps.

Short fiction is generally published in the form of collections (single author), or in anthologies or journals (multi-author), as well as singly on writers’ blogs.

Now that’s out of the way, I can say that in general, I prefer long books to short, and novels to collections or anthologies. In high school, I was the kid lugging around the biggest, fattest books from the school library. I particularly recall Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, which was three inches thick and could injure your foot if you dropped it.

Several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks
Several big, fat books I have read.

Why do I prefer long novels? Because reading is analogous to writing, it may be argued that by visualizing as they read, the reader continues the work of the writer. It takes a similar sort of mental effort for the reader to run a mind-movie as for the writer to create the script for it (the book).

But works of short fiction are not always worth the trouble. You get to know the characters and they’re gone. You appreciate a setting, but you’re kicked out of it when the story ends. Or it’s all minimalistic–a character in a situation, without much detail or context. In a novel, especially a long one, you can settle in, get to know the characters, become friends with some of them, return to their world day after day, and feel bereft when you close the book. (We’re talking about a well-written, interesting novel here, folks. We know that whether long or short, they aren’t all like that.)

Spines of several big fat books owned by me, mostly paperbacks
Books featured here: Les Misérables / Victor Hugo ; Maia / Richard Adams ; Anna Karenin / Leo Tolstoy ; A Place of Greater Safety / Hilary Mantel ; …And Ladies of the Club / Helen Hooven Santmyer ; Black Water : the book of fantastic literature / edited by Alberto Manguel. (And yes, that last one is an anthology of short fiction.)

Short fiction doesn’t linger in my memory the way long novels do.

A book of linked or interrelated short stories, on the other hand, has possibilities. They take place in the same setting, possibly in different time periods. The same characters may appear in more than one story. There may not be a unified plot, but figuring out how the various stories fit together can be interesting.

Fellow writers, what do you think? I see reviews of short books on your blogs, so I know you read and enjoy them. Long reads or short–which do you prefer, both to read and to write?

By the way, my 2018 novel, She Who Comes Forth, is having its final two free days on Amazon August 20th and 21st (today and tomorrow). It’s shorter than the books in the photos for this post. Click the cover image.

Blue delphinium flowers in bowl

In a Vase By Accident

Pretty much the only way a flower ends up in a vase at my place is if it’s cut or broken by accident. I’d rather see them in their outside spots than in the house.

This delphinium, for example. We had a nice summer rain shortly after they started blooming. Rain here is almost always followed by brisk westerly winds as the low pressure system exits to the east. That was too much for the rain-soaked flower spike. The next day it was bent down at an acute angle that means only one thing–broken. So I brought it inside.

Blue delphinium, accidental cut flower, near pink African violets

I must admit, this allowed for a close-up view of the gorgeous translucent blue flowers.

I will be mostly absent from the blogosphere for the next week or so, due to summertime fun. Wishing good weather (cool or warm but not extreme) to all, along with happy reading and/or writing!