Reading

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!

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.

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.

All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack

Local Author Book Review #17: All Shapes and Disguises by Lee-Anne Stack

This is another in my occasional series called Local Author Book Reviews, featuring authors from the Greater Victoria (British Columbia) region whose books are included in the Greater Victoria Public Library’s Emerging Local Authors Collection.

Book Description:

Kate, Pearl and Colin are back for another wild adventure. Vacationing at her family’s remote cottage in northern Ontario, Kate rescues a stranger who’s been injured after losing a blueberry patch dispute with a bear. His captivating charm immerses them in a world of gold, murder, and real estate conspiracies. But is he the real deal? With night whispering its arrival, Kate is challenged to confront one of her greatest fears.

My review:

Kate O’Malley (first encountered in Clamming Up) is back, along with her friends Pearl and Colin. This time, the trio is vacationing in Kate’s family’s cabin (known as The Camp) on a lake near Timmins, in northern Ontario. This setting, clearly based on a real place known to and loved by the author, informs and illustrates the story. Even the mosquitoes and leeches are included, as well as bears, moose (there’s a really good scene with one of these), otters, and other wildlife.

Before the fun begins, though, a prologue shows the final moments of a woman’s life. The means of her death and the reasons for it constitute the mystery element of the book, one which emerges gradually amid activities such as fishing, swimming, and boating. Another character emerges as well—Ben Brodan, whom Kate rescues after he’s injured while eluding a mother bear. It turns out Ben was a friend of the deceased woman. As Kate and her friends help him out, they are drawn into a legal tangle involving gold, mining claims, property transactions, contracts, and shady enterprises. Kate and Ben are also drawn to one another, introducing an element of romance.

Even though it takes a while for the mystery to manifest, there is always something exciting going on. Kate and the others know how to enjoy themselves, whether they are fishing, cooking, playing board games, or imbibing an impressive array of beverages. (In fact, a complete menu for a stay at a rustic lakeside retreat may be derived from this book.)

The point of view and narrative voice is Kate’s, in short chapters with catchy titles. A few even shorter untitled chapters briefly show nameless persons carrying out sinister deeds. A couple of local eccentrics and an Ontario Provincial Police detective with the memorable name of Tuffanski round out the supporting cast.

The motives and methods are figured out after a number of harrowing situations and with the help of friends in the right places, a few lucky breaks, and some tech. The ending is satisfying. I recommend this book unreservedly to anyone looking for a realistic mystery with an upbeat style. The vicarious stay at The Camp is a bonus.

open book against blue sky with white clouds

Why Do I Read?

I’ve been thinking about reading lately. In the abstract, that is. It was a topic discussed in the most recent video chat at Writers Supporting Writers, just about the time I posted my TBR list for summer reading. And now I’ve joined another Goodreads Reading Round. So one way or another, I’m immersed in reading.

But why do I read at all?

I decided to ask myself the question at its most fundamental. Why do I read anything? Not fiction versus nonfiction, not a specific genre or a specific book. What is the impulse that makes me seek out text, words rendered into alphabetic characters on paper or screen?

Because I need to give my brain something to do, or something to engage with other than present reality.

This would be when whatever situation I’m in isn’t interesting enough, or when I want to get away from whatever is happening around me or in my head. It’s my way of disengaging from reality and placing my attention elsewhere.

Specifically, these are the situations in which my brain says, “I need something to read.”

  • Waiting. At the dentist’s, at the airport or on the airplane, in a lineup. Etc. Any situation I can’t escape, but in which there isn’t anything to engage my attention.
  • Eating. Yes, dinner table conversation is a good thing, but sometimes there’s nothing to say, or there isn’t anyone around but the dog. Dogs are not good conversationalists.
  • Detaching. From the day, the situation, the people around me. I always read for at least a few minutes before going to sleep. It’s the perfect way to transition from daily frets and thoughts to the relaxed state conducive to sleep.
  • Enhancing. Reading perfects a state of passive enjoyment, such a at the beach or a picnic, where one is in pleasant surroundings with nothing to do. Give the brain a book and let the body soak up the sun, birdsong, breeze, etc.

Reading is such a simple action. You pick up the text-bearing object (sheets of paper bound together or a hand-held electronic device), open it or turn it on, and focus your eyes. Okay, some may need to put on glasses first. That’s it. You start reading where you left off and keep reading at whatever speed you like.

And–best of all, in my opinion–you can stop at any point without losing the thread, knowing you can return to the text whenever you like.

Now I’m wondering when the human brain developed this hunger for text. We know we told stories long before the emergence of written language. Reading became a universal human experience only in the past couple of centuries, so the brain’s need for text (as distinct from story) must be similarly recent.

Storytelling is a social activity, but reading silently to oneself is private. Some scholars think silent reading was the beginning of an interior life. I think this is unlikely; surely people in pre-literate societies had private thoughts, imaginings, and flights of fancy? But it does seem that once reading is a choice, for some of us it becomes a need.

While silent reading is a solitary activity, it is nevertheless a form of communication. Text is indirect communication without the immediacy of face-to-face speech, but it preserves ideas, images, and sounds. It carries them across time and space. It transcends mortality.

pocket watch and book

In conclusion: I read to give my brain something to do, and to be transported virtually to a different environment where I can vicariously experience things I probably never will in real life.

As a reader, I’m happy that there are so many writers creating stuff to read, so I don’t have to resort to whatever happens to be available nearby (cereal box, instruction manual, nutritional info, last week’s newspaper). But what does this mean to me as a writer?

To be continued in Why Do I Write?

Words related to writing

More Writers’ Q & A

This is the fifth WSW video chat in which we offer answers to questions posed by readers earlier this year.

This time around, Berthold, Lucinda, Mark, and I opine on the question Why Do You Read? But we begin with a question from RJ Llewellyn: what should an author do if despite their best efforts, their work isn’t being noticed? Quit? Advertise? Keep writing anyway? And what about the element of luck?

View or listen to the chat HERE.

open book against blue sky with white clouds

Indie Books for Summer Reading

I’m not working on a major writing project this summer (although I am paying attention to what’s going on in my brain, and making notes). So I expect to get a lot of reading done.

Here are 8 books queued up on my two e-readers (not in any order):

  • The Journey / Suzanne Miller
  • Hope (Operation Galton Book 1) / Terry Tyler
  • Alchemy / Mark Ryan
  • Sunwielder / D. Wallace Peach
  • Sailing to Redoubt / C. Litka
  • Best Friends and Other Lovers / J.F. Kaufmann
  • The Two-Blood Legacy / J.F. Kaufmann
  • The Daemoniac / Kat Ross

These are all indie-published books!

The list may be added to, especially if I join another Goodreads Reading Round, in which case I’ll have to rev up my reading efforts.

I almost always review the books I read. I post reviews on Goodreads, and on Amazon or Smashwords, depending on where I acquired the book. So look out for reviews!

Does anyone else have a “Books to Read This Summer” list to share?

Science or Magic image for Herbert West Series

Another Look at The Friendship of Mortals

After reading a post on Story Empire about Amazon A+ content, I decided to create some images for that purpose. At the very least, I thought, it was a good reason to mess around with Canva. They have added a lot of elements recently, including free ones, so there’s more scope for different effects than when I first started using this graphic design tool.

This is the image I put together to represent The Friendship of Mortals, my first novel and Book 1 of the Herbert West Series.

The Friendship of Mortals A plus image

Those of you who have read the book may know why I included some of these pictorial components. Those of you who haven’t read it may be sufficiently intrigued to do so!

Amazon: US UK CA or mybook.to/FofM
Smashwords Barnes & Noble Kobo Apple Books

This and my other A+ efforts may be seen on the Amazon.com pages for the books in the HW Series. Have they generated a deluge of sales? Not really, but I had a bit of fun creating them.

Has anyone else created A+ content on Amazon? What do you think of this feature?

open book against blue sky with white clouds

Why Do You Read?

This is a topic for the next Writers Supporting Writers video chat, which will happen this coming Saturday.

It’s a pretty fundamental question for writers, who are also readers (or should be). We’re interested in your reasons for reading. What prompts you to open that book, fire up that e-reader, or listen to that audiobook? What are you looking for?

Read Mark’s post HERE and leave a comment at WSW.