Reading

The Dubious Art of Book Reviewing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole book reviewing thing lately, so was happy to see this post by JF Kaufmann, which opens up some significant issues about indie authors and book reviews.

JF Kaufmann, Author

I don’t write reviews often; it takes time and effort to come up with a meaningful retrospection. When I do write them, I have different rules for different types of books, and this customized approach is most apparent within two major publishing categories–indie books and traditionally published books.

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Sometimes I’m so moved with a book that I feel inspired to put down my impressions. It usually happens when I really like it and want to share my excitement (or recommend it) or, less frequently, when I’m frustrated or disappointed. The second scenario–a pissed-off review–usually occurs with a work of fiction unjustifiably praised, in my opinion, for qualities it doesn’t possess.

There are no consequences for the author as I don’t have any influence outside my limited blog space. Even if I did, such authors are fair game: they’ve been paid for their books…

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digital brain

Brain Limits

I’ve heard you can’t really multi-task, despite people who claim they can.

I don’t entirely agree. I can do more than one thing at a time, but only to a point. For example, I can perform simple familiar tasks, like washing dishes, while thinking about something I’m writing or intend to write. And listening to a news program. In fact, I need to have some sort of mental input while doing manual work, even something like sewing, which is not simple or familiar.

But there are limits. I’ve tested them.

First, let me describe the usual scenario in my writing and blogging space. There’s the computer, with a bunch of weather-related tabs open, plus WordPress, plus Goodreads and a few others. Also email, of course. There’s an old-fashioned mini-stereo setup behind and to one side of the computer. It can play CDs and even cassette tapes, although it’s hardly ever called upon to do that. Mostly it’s a radio, and if I’m at the computer, it’s always on, cranking out music, news, or a current affairs program. Sometimes there’s music on the radio and at the same time a podcast on the computer, talking to me through one earbud. And as well as listening, I’m reading blog posts, or even writing one.

multitasking head media colourful
Image from Pixabay

Is this ideal? Probably not, but it seems to work. Is it multi-tasking? No. It’s sequential tasking. The old brain can deal with only one or perhaps two of these inputs at a time. The music seems to seep through the other stuff, but if it fully engages my attention, I disengage from the other tasks so I can listen properly. Otherwise, I’m taking in and focussing on only the words I’m reading, writing, or listening to, for sequential short intervals. I have to admit, I miss a lot of details of the radio programs while paying attention to blog posts or whatever I’m writing. Quite often, my attention is caught by the host thanking the interviewee or announcing the performer, having missed whatever was said, played, or sung. Annoying, but there it is.

When this input-juggling is working well, I can actually get things read or written and switch focus in time to get something out of whatever I’m listening to. It’s not the best way to absorb information, but it’s the only way I’ve come up with to keep up with the blogs I follow and what’s going on in the world, as well as creating blog posts and other writings.

Maybe this is why by the end of the day I don’t trust myself to write comments on people’s blog posts. The brain is worn out!

A final thought: if a long writing session is too challenging, a five-minute one jammed in between other mental tasks is manageable. Several such sessions actually produce visible results. Note: I don’t write first drafts of novels this way; that’s a whole other process!

Ideal combinations:

  • manual work + informative radio program
  • reading blogs + informative radio program or music
  • reading fiction + music
  • writing + music

Ideally, only two inputs at a time, you notice.

On the other hand, I don’t watch anything. At all. Well, maybe the odd video, but only if it’s a short one. No TV, no streaming. I read a lot of books. I do this reading away from the computer and even the radio, mainly during meals and before going to sleep.

Fellow bloggers, how do you avoid brain overload? Do any of you multitask?

open books, grass

My Year of Books

I read fifty-six books in 2022, many by indie authors. I thought about doing a “favourite books of 2022” post, but realized it was impossible to choose which ones to feature.

Instead, you may see them all HERE. Click on a cover image to see the book’s description at Goodreads.

And if you want to read my reviews of these books, they may be found HERE. Just click on “view (with text)” on the right hand side of the page.

Now back to the TBR. I have many books queued up for 2023!

SHE books info

Christmas Review No. 2: She Who Returns by Audrey Driscoll

Here is a lovely review of She Who Returns, by fellow writer JF Kaufmann.

JF Kaufmann, Author

The next in my series of Christmas reviews is the closing book of Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West series, She Who Returns. I’ve read and reviewed the previous installment, She Who Comes Forth and I want to touch on this one, too.

The final book in the series is a well-plotted and fast-paced story full of thrilling twists and turns. Audrey Driscoll’s writing is quite elegant, smooth and atmospheric. I absolutely love the supernatural elements coiled within the story and I can’t help but notice the thorough research in Ancient Egypt mythology, language and history she must have done. Although not unexpected (where else would you find them if not in Egypt?) the paranormal components are original and intelligent.

What is really impressive in this novel is the setting, both in terms of time and location — Egypt in the early 1960s.

I can’t personally vouch for the time period, but…

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Four Things That Make Me Close a Book

This may be the first of several posts about reading. (Or it may not.)

I’ve been thinking about the process of reading. It seems to me that reading a piece of fiction is more than scanning a text with the eyes and understanding the words. It’s more complex than that. Something happens in the reader’s brain to create the book for that reader. In a way, the reader’s brain works with the writer’s creation to make a new thing. This new thing exists only for that reader, while they are reading. They may think about it afterward, remember it, talk about it with others, or even write about the experience, as one does after seeing a movie.

I will start with a few things (aside from incoherent writing) that stop me from reading a book, or at least make me reluctant to read. They make me want to leave the Mind-Movie Theatre.

  1. Animal abuse
  2. Graphic violence or grossness as the point of the book
  3. A main character or characters I consider hateful
  4. Long sections of nonstop action unrelieved by dialogue, description, or backstory

I am reluctant to read books with scenes that describe animals suffering or being killed, even if the book as a whole is interesting. Human suffering and death are not as repugnant, unless described with gratuitous detail.

Strange, isn’t it? Especially because this abhorrence has grown stronger with age. I seem to recall being able to shrug it off as “only a story” when I was younger. Maybe I can no longer do that because I know too much.

There are books whose point is to induce disgust, or a kind of stomach-churning fascination. Fine, but I’d rather not read them.

Flawed characters are all right, but when a book has no characters with a few sympathetic qualities, I want out.

Reading page after page describing people slashing, stabbing, and hewing each other is too much like work. The mental movie-maker starts to protest. “I’m all out of fake blood,” it whines.

Am I squeamish, cowardly, or in denial? I’m not sure. Am I saying writers should purge such elements from their books? Not at all, but I do want to know they’re there before I commit to reading.

This brings up the matter of “trigger warnings.” While I don’t think it’s necessary to spell out every possible thing that may shock or offend some readers, I do think we authors owe it to our readers to clearly indicate the nature of a book in its description. Words like “harsh,” “gory,” “brutal,” or “explicit” give readers a good idea of what to expect.

Writers and readers, what puts you off reading a book? What do you think of trigger warnings?

Featured image from Pexels.

The Necromancer’s Daughter: a novel by D. Wallace Peach

First, a word from Diana:

Greetings, Audrey. Thanks so much for inviting me to join you on your blog to talk a bit about my new book The Necromancer’s Daughter. I wanted to share a little dilemma that I had at the start of the book and how I chose to handle it. It’s interesting to me how certain stories challenge us to try something different.
The first section of the book, The Necromancer, is six chapters long, and it introduces Barus. For most of this section, Aster hasn’t been born, so the story unfolds in Barus’s POV.
Then, the story takes a turn and jumps ahead to section two, called The Necromancer’s Daughter. Aster, as a young woman, takes over the story, and Barus fades from the spotlight.
But I liked Barus, and I hoped readers would like him too. And though he isn’t present for the majority of the remaining action, he continues to be extremely important to the story. How would I keep him present and involved if he wasn’t, in fact, present and involved? Hmmm.
I decided that while he fled the kingdom in search of a safe haven, he would write a letter to Aster, in installments similar to a diary. It was my little dive into epistolary storytelling (storytelling through letters). I’m crossing my fingers that it worked.
Thanks again for having me along, and many thanks to your blog buddies for visiting. Happy Reading!

The word “necromancer” in the title captured my interest. My own writing has given me an acquaintance with such an individual, so I was intensely interested in Barus and how he returns the dead to life. Here is an excerpt in which Barus studies his mother Olma’s book of medicines, potions, and cures, specifically, the chapter titled Death Magic:

double quotation mark open

He turned the page and sighed with relief at the plainly written recipes employing common herbs and natural toxins, hallucinogens distilled from plants growing near his home. The many drawings included black henbane and jimson weed, moonseed and baneberry, all familiar to him. Instructions detailed methods for turning necromantic solutions into powders, determining portions, and administering them with…
He froze. The last ingredient on the list stopped his breath.
Human blood.
He shut the book with a thump. Dawn flung golden spears through gaps in the thatch, and he sagged with fatigue, face in his hands. He’d wasted his time. Olma would never have stolen a life, never poisoned and bled one soul to save another. She must have discovered a different way. He dropped his hands and stared at the cut on his knuckle. Another bead of blood had smeared and dried.
His own blood.
He stroked the book’s leather cover as he grasped the nature of the scars on Olma’s arms, scars she’d never explained. Possibility coursed through his veins and lit a fire behind his eyes. Never again would he lose someone he loved.

I loved this! I loved it because it involves a book of esoteric lore, and names real plants used in magic. And the necromantic ritual is not a simple matter of following a recipe. The practitioner must suffer and risk losing his or her life. The scene in which Barus heals Aster from death is both harrowing and poignant. It is incredibly compelling. And it’s only the beginning of peril and fear for both Barus and Aster, as they are hunted by those who believe them to be abominations.

Book Description:
A healer and dabbler in the dark arts of life and death, Barus is as gnarled as an ancient tree. Forgotten in the chaos of the dying queen’s chamber, he spirits away her stillborn infant, and in a hovel at the meadow’s edge, he breathes life into the wisp of a child. He names her Aster for the lea’s white flowers. Raised as his daughter, she learns to heal death.
Then the day arrives when the widowed king, his own life nearing its end, defies the Red Order’s warning. He summons the necromancer’s daughter, his only heir, and for his boldness, he falls to an assassin’s blade.
While Barus hides from the Order’s soldiers, Aster leads their masters beyond the wall into the Forest of Silvern Cats, a land of dragons and barbarian tribes. She seeks her mother’s people, the powerful rulers of Blackrock, uncertain whether she will find sanctuary or face a gallows’ noose.
Unprepared for a world rife with danger, a world divided by those who practice magic and those who hunt them, she must choose whether to trust the one man offering her aid, the one man most likely to betray her—her enemy’s son.
A healer with the talent to unravel death, a child reborn, a father lusting for vengeance, and a son torn between justice, faith, and love. Caught in a chase spanning kingdoms, each must decide the nature of good and evil, the lengths they will go to survive, and what they are willing to lose.

Purchase Links

AMAZON: US UK CA AU IN

Barnes & Noble

KOBO


Apple


Smashwords


About Diana Wallace Peach:
A long-time reader, best-selling author D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life when years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books. She was instantly hooked.
In addition to fantasy books, Peach’s publishing career includes participation in various anthologies featuring short stories, flash fiction, and poetry. She’s an avid supporter of the arts in her local community, organizing and publishing annual anthologies of Oregon prose, poetry, and photography. Peach lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two owls, a horde of bats, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Shepherd: a New Book Discovery Site

A few months ago, I read a post by Mae Clair on Story Empire about her experience with a book discovery platform called Shepherd.com. I checked it out, and now there is a page on the site with five book recommendations from me.

The Best Novels That Give Reality a Supernatural Twist

Like Mae, I received an email from Shepherd’s founder Ben Fox through the Contact form on my blog. Because of Mae’s favourable experience, I decided to contribute a list of recommended books on a theme similar to that of my novel The Friendship of Mortals, namely, the intrusion of the supernatural into real life.

The folks at Shepherd were great to work with. They created a beautiful page with my recommendations. The link is above, or you can find it HERE. The hardest part for me (but it was fun too!) was deciding on a theme and finding five books I’ve read that belong there. I can easily think of other themes and lists, so may contribute again.

Best of all, the service is completely free. Based on my experiences, I recommend it to fellow authors.

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.