Friday Bookshelf: July 25, 2014

I receive a ton of daily emails alerting me to free and sale book options.  There’s some overlap, but generally there are probably 30 books or more that I’m offered everyday for $1.99 or less.  Out of all of these, I download 2 or 3 a week, mostly free.  I’ve developed a sort of mental shorthand when skimming these, and I think it’s interesting, using myself as a guinea pig, to notice what marketing works and what doesn’t.

Cover: There is an important quality threshold here, and it eliminates a high percentage of indie books.  I realize I may be missing some diamonds in the rough, but if you didn’t pay for a professional cover, you probably also didn’t pay for professional editing, and everybody needs editing.  These examples were picked from the first page of Amazon’s free bestseller list, because that’s easy.

The first book here is from Bethany House, an inspirational publisher, the second one is a good quality indie cover, and the last one is a heinous indie cover.  Despite not being my favorite genres, the first two got a second look and were ultimately downloaded – the plots looked interesting enough to take a chance on for free (I would not have paid actual money for either since they aren’t in my wheelhouse and I haven’t heard of either author before).  The last one I would not read unless I knew the author personally or it was highly recommended by someone whose reading opinions I implicitly trust, and that’s a pretty short list.  I’m not saying that the first two are as high of a quality as those from a major publisher, but someone, probably someone who was paid to do so, spent enough time to think about design and font and so forth.  Personally, I have no design skills; I don’t even recognize the elements that signal my threshold, but I know it when I see it.

Typos: Do you have typos in your blurb?  If you can’t put together two paragraphs correctly, I’m going to assume you also have many, many typos in your book, and will not download it.

Tropes: I like authors who turn tropes on their head, but sometimes I just like seeing a new turn in a familiar plot, so just because you have a “marriage of convenience” or “young person on a journey” thing going on doesn’t mean I won’t try it out.  There are a few things that will trigger an absolute no from me, usually because they’re just overdone right now.  Is the word “billionaire” in your title?  Pass.  Has your young protagonist just turned 16, 18 or 21 and suddenly need to master a just manifested magical skill in order to save the world?  Nope (unless you are Mercedes Lackey.)  My pet peeve lately is “hero/heroine who is about to achieve the final lynchpin to a perfect existence suddenly has everything taken away and must start over with nothing.”  I can see why it is compelling to set up a story this way, but it just feels like lazy plotting at this point.

Bad Blurbing: This is harder to define, but usually it comes down to emphasizing the wrong things or giving too much away.  If you tell me about your theme, i.e., “this book is about forgiveness/second chances” and not about your story or character, then you are doing it wrong.  If your blurb gives away a major plot point beyond the first third of the book, you are doing it wrong.  If your blurb is more than 3 short paragraphs or 2 longish ones, you are doing it wrong.  If you identify your main character by his full name and he has the same initials as yourself, I am going to assume it is a thinly veiled autobiography and not read it, so you are doing it wrong.  And if you describe your own book in the first sentence as “compelling” or “incredible”, you are definitely doing it wrong.

My personal issues: Sometimes it’s just me.  I mentioned that Barbara Kingsolver has put me off anything set in Appalachia, though that is probably temporary.  I am completely over spunky Southern heroines, especially if they come in sets, I don’t care how many people tell me they loved The Help.  I don’t read books set in wartime generally – no Civil War, no WW II, no Vietnam vets, and that one Tom Clancy novel I read was fine but I’m not picking up any others.


So what am I buying?  A free book from a major publisher in any genre is probably going to get downloaded.  A Kindle Daily Deal has a higher chance than most other sale books, especially if it’s something that I’ve been eyeing for awhile or that has been getting buzz. For some reason any book less than 99 cents, even if it’s only a few pennies different, seems like a really good deal.  And if I were going to recommend anything right now, today is the last day to get some special enhanced editions of Courtney Milan’s early books for 99 cents, and that includes the first two amazing books in the Turner series.  As a side note, she designs her own covers, and like everything else, she does it well.


Friday Bookshelf: July 18, 2014

I may have mentioned before that one can put one’s Kindle in airplane mode and, ahem, expired library books won’t disappear when it can’t connect to the internet.  My life would probably be better if I had not discovered this, as instead of reading them in the 2 week borrow period, I’ve had a set of 5 books that I’ve been meaning to get to for months.  I’ve also checked out other books which I’m then forced to either upload through the usb, which I am almost always too lazy to do, or read through the Overdrive app.  This was less of a hardship when my iPad wasn’t broken; iphone screens are really too tiny for comfortable book reading.  And Overdrive books disappear right on the dot of expiration, even if not connected to the internet and even if you’re reading the book at the time. (That happened once.  There were tears.)  I also have books that I’ve obtained for Kindle through other means, which I’m also reading on my phone.  Seriously, this was not a good idea.

Considering the backlog of books I have otherwise, both print and ebook, why am I even checking out library books?  Well, that’s usually the way I read new bestsellers, because hardback prices give me heartburn, and also to try new authors.  Here are the books that I’ve allowed to hang out too long:

Amelia Peabody mysteries – I love them so, and I’m trying to read them in order, but I don’t quite love them enough to buy the entire set of 20. This is the 2nd one, so slow going since I always have to put them on hold. Finally read this several weeks ago, and wondered why I waited so long as it was delightful.

Neil Gaiman is still a genius.  Unnatural Creatures is one of best short story anthologies I’ve read – mostly I’d describe them as fantasy, but with a dark edge.   They were all very, very good, and my favorite, The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, was by E. Lily Hu, an author I’d never heard of and who seems to be published only in magazines and anthologies.  I’d love to see a collection from her.  And The Ocean at the End of the Lane is indescribably wonderful.  Gaiman captures the truth of childhood, its fears and missed connections and how things never line up quite right.  I’ve hung on to these so long they’re now out in paperback and I’ll probably just buy them as I’m not ready to let them go.

I’m about half done with this and it’s short on plot – it’s a short book anyway – but it’s long on humor and has a smattering of random trivia.  I love random trivia.  The humor hinges mostly on the ridiculousness of corporate workplaces, so anyone who has every had a job in a large company will know exactly where she’s at.  And once I’m done with this …

I’m probably going to connect my poor lonely Kindle back to the mothership and let this one go without reading. I think this is one of those things I feel like I should read instead of actually wanting to read. If I change my mind, the used bookstore should have multiple movie tie-in copies.

On my phone I’ve lately read:

I’ve never read a Nora Roberts book before. No, I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve also never seen Titanic or The Notebook so it’s something about distrust of the crazily popular. I enjoyed this one enough to kick something else off my holds list so that I could queue up for the 2nd in the series. There are 60 people ahead of me for 7 copies, so I should finish it in time for the 3rd one to come out in October. This one is on sale for $2.99 on Kindle – lots of her books have been on sale, lately. I wasn’t sold enough to immediately want to read her entire backlist, if that’s even possible. The “other books by” part at the beginning took up several pages. The woman is an industry unto herself.

And I’ve just checked out:

I fell in love with a Lee Smith short story in high school, out of a southern lit anthology, and I’m hoping to find that same magic again.

I do love the Kindle reading experience, my growing distrust of Amazon notwithstanding.  (Though honestly I don’t know who to side with on the Hatchette thing; I suspect there’s plenty of blame on both sides.)

Friday Bookshelf: July 11, 2014

To celebrate my triumphant (ha!) return to blogging, I would like to clear up some brain space by throwing together some mini-reviews on some of the books I’ve read lately-ish.

You already know if you like Garrison Keillor or not (there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground on this question).  If you would rate him 8.6 (out of 10) or above, you would probably like it.  It’s less a retrospective of the favorite parts of his work than an unveiling of the building blocks of his career, so even a big fan might find it disappointing if they were hoping for a lot of familiar Prairie Home-ness.  If you have ever wondered, “How is it that Garrison Keillor got that gig?” then congrats, you are the audience of this book.  (I received an advanced copy of this from the First to Read program.)

I think I expected this to be a memoir version of 27 Dresses (note: I have not actually seen that movie and that may not actually be the correct title.)  When, in the intro, the author mentions that she has been to over 20 weddings, I thought, pssht, amateur.  I grew up in a small town where everyone knows everyone else and my mom really likes wedding cake, so I probably had been to 20 weddings by the time I was 8, and I wasn’t ready to take her as an expert.  But it isn’t actually anything like what I think 27 Dresses was like from watching the trailer, nor is it any sort of critique of our current crazeballs wedding culture; instead, she uses wedding events to jump off into exploring relationships – her own single status, and those with her friends and family.  I thought it was well written, but the subject didn’t quite grab me.  Honestly, it seems like the kind of thing a mom might give her 30-something unmarried daughter.  (I received an advanced copy of this from the First to Read program.)

I’ve always meant to read Barbara Kingsolver, and I have The Poisonwood Bible sitting on my kindle from a $1.99 sale.  This came up in the library queue and I thought I’d try it.  I made it a quarter through before the 2 week library loan was up.  The language was beautiful, and the characters were incredibly nuanced and real.  Maybe I’ve been reading too much genre and so have warped my expectations on plot arcs, but nothing much happened in that first quarter.  I read the wikipedia plot summary of the rest and several glowing reviews, and it sounded awfully preachy re: the environment so I’m not feeling too awful about not finishing it.  I’m temporarily off books set in Appalachia now an so the rest of her books are now in the bottom of the pile.

You also probably already know if you like Dave Barry or not.  My opinion is that he often hits on a very funny way to say exactly what everyone is thinking.  The high points for me were his description of reading Fifty Shades of Gray and, on a more introspective note, his travelogue of a trip to Israel.  This book took me about an hour and a half to read, which makes the $26 list price somewhat absurd.  I got it from the library, so I don’t have to feel bad about the ridiculous pricing.

Mr. Foster knew exactly who he was writing for: one of his older former students, maybe a nurse going to back to school, so he’s pleasantly surprised that high school AP courses have adopted his book.   I’m a ways out from my English degree, and this reminded me how I don’t really read this way anymore.  I am completely okay with that, though it was nice to have a little visit back to academia.  (God, I’m so glad I didn’t go to grad school.)  He peppered in a few comments on how he feels about Austenalia, like so: “Then there is the cottage industry that seems determined to cover every aspect of all things Austen [ ….] This trend may be one of the first for which the twenty-first century will need to apologize.”  We’re just going to have to agree to disagree on that one, though I will note a bit smugly he listed Bridget Jones’s Diary in his recommended reading list.  (I have an Austen related review waiting in my brain to be written up – something for you to look forward to.)

I think I touched on her novel Room, but didn’t review it as at that point it was already everywhere, and it’s a huge punch in the gut emotionally and so hard to write about.  (If you haven’t heard of it, she writes about the life of a young woman kidnapped and kept in a soundproof outbuilding by her captor, with the twist that it is told by her 5 year old son born in captivity who doesn’t understand the implications of what he describes.)  In these stories, you can see her exploring that same kind of twist, where the story is told not by the protagonist but the nearby, less-emotionally involved participant.  It’s an incredibly effective device when she uses it, and the relationships she portrays hit home for me.  It’s $2.99 on kindle, so worth picking up if you like short stories.

Finally, here’s something that intrigues me.  Rainbow Rowell’s latest novel – for adults, this time – was released this week, and Amazon sent me an email with a 75% off list price code.  I bought Fangirl and Eleanor and Park when they were offered at a sale price for kindle – haven’t read them yet – so I can see how I made this list of people who would be interested.  I bought it, of course – $6 for a hardcover the week it comes out, such a no-brainer.  But why were they anxious to drive up the sales numbers on this in the first week?  Did the publisher give them a break on the cost to do that to guarantee an entry on bestseller lists?  Macmillan has done some odd things with pricing – I think I bought those previous books for less than a dollar – so maybe.  I’d like to hear the meeting that came up with this.   Haven’t read it yet, but have read a couple of reviews that loved it.  Here’s the cover/link:

Tasty Book Tour: Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long


I broke one of my cardinal rules to read this book: I started at the end of a series. At nine books, the Pennyroyal Green series is approaching the status of an institution, and my (otherwise dormant) internal sense of right and order insists on starting those kinds of things at the beginning, with Book 1, as God and author intended. But there’s the problem – at 9 books, it can suddenly seem too much of a commitment. And yet, everyone says they’re so good. so when the opportunity came to review this one, I had to ignore that niggling voice that said I was doing it wrong, and just try it.

The good news? It didn’t matter. Clearly some of the secondary characters had a deeper backstory than I was getting, and I’ll catch up with them later, and that’s fine, really.  No really, it is.

In the meantime, this book’s heroine, Miss Tatiana Danforth, has a special charm. An American import, her innocent beauty hides a calculating bent reminiscent of Scarlett O’Hara, for all that she’s a New Yorker. Her stated goal may be the best match available to a well-fortuned beauty, but she craves male attention like flowers need sunlight and in the meantime, she’ll be flirting at the center of the room.

She might look like an angel…

The moment orphaned American heiress Titania “Tansy” Danforth arrives on English shores she cuts a swath through Sussex, enslaving hearts and stealing beaux. She knows she’s destined for a spectacular titled marriage—but the only man who fascinates her couldn’t be more infamous…or less interested.

…but it takes a devil to know one…

A hardened veteran of war, inveterate rogue Ian Eversea keeps women enthralled, his heart guarded and his options open: why should he succumb to the shackles of marriage when devastating good looks and Eversea charm make seduction so easy?

…and Heaven has never been hotter.

When Ian is forced to call her on her game, he never dreams the unmasked Tansy—vulnerable, brave, achingly sensual—will tempt him beyond endurance. And fight as he will, this notorious bachelor who stood down enemies on a battlefield might finally surrender his heart…and be brought to his knees by love.

It takes a strong hero to see through her tricks, and their war of words was the best part of the story.  Ian also has the disadvantage of his brother-in-law’s disapproval, and that brother-in-law, the Duke of Falconbridge,  unfortunately holds the determination of Tansy’s future.

I’ll be catching up on the Duke’s story in – let’s see – book 5.What I Did For a Duke.

Avon is giving away book 8 for the tour here, so you can start there, or see the rest of the tour here, or just jump in and start with Tansy, who is quite charming.

I have 8 more books to buy, myself.


Author Info
The author of five popular novels from Warner and eight from Avon, Julie Anne Long lives in California with a fat orange cat (little known fact: they issue you a cat the moment you become a romance novelist).
Author Links

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.  

Stay With Me by Elyssa Patrick

I am convinced that me from the past was kind of an idiot, but I can’t deny that being 20 was lots of fun. Everything at 20 is intense and hopeful and can change at any time.

Unfortunately, the opinions of my 20 year old self, untempered by any real life experience or hardship, were not nearly as interesting or important as I thought they were at the time.

The beauty of fiction is that it can condense down to the actual interesting parts and filter out any drama-inducing analysis of 30 second conversations. I’m enjoying the New Adult genre – romance centered on college-age protagonists – with a tinge of nostalgia. And a few hours of college nostalgia is just about perfect.

Haley, the heroine of Stay with Me, has had a bit more life experience than your average college freshman. A former child pop/movie star, she has turned her back on her career and her pushy stage mom (I pictured Mama Lohan) and decided to attend a small, rural college in Vermont. There’s a lot to like about Haley: she’s aware of her advantages, eager to leave all the detritus of being famous behind (except for maybe the designer clothes), cautious but open. When a professor accuses her expecting her fame to cover over shoddy work, she finds a tutor, not a free pass.

And she meets Caleb, a small town, local guy with a big circle of friends. Caleb is smart, handsome, and understanding. Caleb is … generically awesome. He also has a sister who becomes Haley’s best friend.

The tension in the story hinges on Haley’s last secret, which she expects her mother to spill at any minute in order to try to bring Haley back to the world she abandoned. It was mentioned so often that I expected the reveal to be anticlimactic, but it was as much as a shocker as promised, but (this being a romance) didn’t bring about the end of the world Haley predicted.

As much as the story is a romance, though, it’s really about Haley finding her place in the rest of the world. I spent the whole first half wishing that Lindsay/Amanda/Miley/etc. had decided to go to college in small, rural Vermont towns, and the last half just rooting for Haley.

Despite the fact that Caleb (and his friends and family) are all a little too perfect, this was a pleasure to read. It was like a mid-nineties era rom-com, and I consider that a compliment.

And the final thing I love about New Adult: the story doesn’t have to end with a big wedding or promises of forever and ever. Just because your first big love isn’t destined to be your last doesn’t mean it isn’t special.

The best bit: it’s currently $1.99 through at least Saturday. So you should buy it right now.

Friday Bookshelf: November 1, 2013

Important book sale bit: I don’t know why or for how long these books will be $1.40 for Kindle editions, but it’s a great selection.  I bought these two young adult by Rainbow Rowell because they have had crazy good recommendations:

(If that’s not enough YA for you, The Book Thief and The Fault in Our Stars are $3.99 each for Kindle, as well.)

And I bought Silver Linings Playbook because I never got around to seeing the movie and the book sounds even better:

And in the triumph of hope over experience, I bought the sequel to Wolf Hall even though I haven’t actually read Wolf Hall yet.

I have also already read Firefly Lane, which I found to be a nice take on the heroine-is-secretly-a-witch idea, and Shantaram, which has a compelling story set in Bombay, if somewhat purplish prose:

But on to my other obsessions.  You guys know I love Jane Austen (I won’t call myself her biggest fan until I dress up in regency clothing), but I don’t know that I want a regency RPG.  It sounds sort of sordid.

I’m also sad to say that, as much as I loved the Lizzie Bennet diaries, I am not loving their adaptation of Emma. Emma is now a caricature: manipulative, materialistic, self-absorbed. I’m currently hate-watching it, though.

I like the Booker awards because they have so far excellently corresponded to books that I both enjoy and would likely not have chosen to read otherwise.  I was extra fascinated by this article on how the award affects sales.   It’s the sort of trend I’m happy to be included in.

NaNoWriMo starts today.  I am not holding myself out to writing a novel, but I am going to at least outline the one that’s knocking around in my head.

I’m in a bit of a reading slump, so please send mojo.


Friday Bookshelf: October 25, 2013

Just to get the disagreeable bit out of the way first, the internet was quite feisty this week because the 3rd book in the Divergent series, Allegiant, came out and the fans were … upset … about the ending. Only it’s a young adult novel with a young adult audience, so the upset was cranked up to 11 and the author caught everything up to and including death threats. By all accounts, author Veronica Roth handled it all with restraint. Here is a link to the details, but the article has spoilers for the book so be warned.

I haven’t planned on reading the series, but I found the turn of the discussion concerning appropriate denouement for young adult fiction very interesting.  The readers expected a happy ending; various authors noted that authors don’t owe their readers anything, and especially not climactic unicorns and rainbows.  If I want a guaranteed happy ending – and sometimes I do – I can read romance, where it is in fact an established rule.  I don’t think that young adult has to guarantee what in romance is called HEA (happy ever after); the thing I appreciate most about current young adult lit is that it doesn’t talk down to its readers.  In my preteen years I read a lot of Stephen King, so clearly HEA was not a requirement.

But, I also don’t think that HEA endings are stupider, or less literary or thoughtful, than dramatic ones.  I have never understood why only Serious Movies get Oscar consideration.  A good plot develops and finds the right ending on whichever end of the spectrum works.

Blah, enough of that.  Correcting another one of my least favorite attitudes, Sarah Maclean, who writes really excellent romances, wrote a letter to the New York Times on their article  on writing sex scenes which inexplicably left out the experts on the subject in the romance field.  As it did not insult their intelligence, I suspect it was the 2nd or 3rd draft.

The World Book Night book list came out this week.  Even though I’ve never signed up to participate – I’m not quite sure where I would locate non-readers who wouldn’t think I was insane for trying to give them a book – I pick the ones I think I’d be good at pitching.  And this year – wow, this is a challenging list to pitch to non-readers. The Weird Sisters I enjoyed, but I can’t imagine selling a non-reader on a book about a collection of first-world-problem sisters with a Shakespearean quoting professor for a father.  I’ve recommended the Dog Stars to several people who have hated it, plus it has odd diction that makes it hard to stick with. I’m under no illusions that everyone likes Jane Austen as much as I do, so I can’t imagine telling a non-reader that a book based on a 200 year old book is just the thing for them, yet Miss Darcy Falls in Love is on the list so someone thinks it’s a good idea. I thought Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was wonderful but it is very, very odd; odd seems to be in style so I might give that one a go. But the sure bet is the Agatha Christie Poirot mystery After the Funeral; Christie novels are short and funny and the plot setup has been stolen for years of TV shows. Kitchen Confidential would probably find a pretty wide appeal, as well.

If I needed more T-shirts (I’m about to move again so really, I don’t) I’d buy one from this site just because it’s called Insatiable Booksluts.

I also don’t need any more books to move, but I acquired two Alice Munro short story collections because she won a Noble prize and it seemed like a good time for it.  Here’s a free short story of hers from the New Yorker site.

And finally, Nicholas Sparks denied he writes icky romances (women write those, ew) by naming his genre “love tragedy.”  I’d like to thank him for defining the genre so I can better avoid it in the future.

Friday Bookshelf: October 4, 2013

My theory on why I like Pride and Prejudice sequels and adaptions is that I love the characters so much that I want to spend extra time with them. This makes it extra important that, in the sequels, Lizzie and Darcy are happily in love. That cannot be screwed with. So you can imagine how I felt when I found out that [spoiler but it’s all over twitter and facebook so I’m sure you noticed] Helen Fielding KILLED OFF MARK DARCY for the new Bridget Jones novel. This is so not okay, and I will not be reading this book. I will probably read a synopsis on the internet, though. Sigh. Anyway, here’s someone who disagrees with me. You’ll note that, as she mentions in the first paragraph that she’s not keen on Austen, she can’t possibly be trusted.

To get you through the anxiety of dealing with this travesty, here’s a hedgehog eating a carrot.

But on to authors doing GOOD things. Nora Roberts, who in my head has a room in her bed and breakfast where she just rolls around in cash like Scrooge McDuck, has donated a lot of money to a college to encourage them to academically study romance. I think this is awesome. Also, I have somehow never read a Nora Roberts book. I think I picked up one in the library sale, though, so if the urge comes up, I’m ready.

I’ve decided I’d like one of these miniature book pendants, but how would you decide which book to get?

If you have any interest in Sci Fi or Fantasy, often has free short stories. Here’s a great option from Mary Robinette Kowal.

I’ve been reading some nice books that I don’t really want to review. Some books – new ones, mostly – are for reviews, but lately I’ve been tired and I’ve just read for fun.

Charity Girl is not Georgette Heyer’s best work. It does, however, illustrate all the strengths and flaws of her novels. Her characters are just excessively likeable and there’s just enough plot and everything works out well in the end for everyone. They speak in the oddest slang, though, so the dialogue sometimes has to be figured out from the context, which is just ridiculous. Her books are like cupcakes, and this one could’ve used better quality icing.

The Camelot Caper is the odd Elizabeth Peters book that isn’t part of a series and is more like one of her Barbara Michaels thrillers, but not quite as gothic. It’s a road trip through England plot as the plucky American heroine meets an author with a nose of Cyranoic (Bergeracian?) proportions and they try to figure out why low quality criminals are menacing them. It was also a delightful romp of a read, but dated, as the heroine kept roving the English countryside in pastel skirt suits. I can’t imagine any flavor of American tourist doing that now.

A Hidden Fire is along the lines of A Discovery of Witches, in that a heroine with an unusual skill set – she’s getting a degree in Library Science – assists and falls for a vampire. I might quibble a bit with the style, especially in the first few chapters, but the story is solid, and kept me entertained even though I’m officially over the vampire thing. I also liked that the heroine was not in the least bit a frumpy librarian, and that it was set in Houston and all my favorite academic places make an appearance. Seriously, the rare books section of the UH library is magic. They let me touch a first edition of Rasselas.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that A Hidden Fire is the first in a series and is free for Kindle.

Finally, there’s been a lot of mention lately of comfort reads, and I have to give a shout out to mine:

Mercedes Lackey is deservedly best known for her Valdemar series, but this is great fun – a fairly unique magic system with interesting limitations, my favorite kind of plucky, bookish heroine, set in early 20th century San Francisco, and a bittersweet but practical ending.