Friday, July 20, 2018

Is it the mystery or the voice that entices a reader?

I've been rereading Divide by Zero ready for its rerelease (with Ink-Filled Stories... watch this space!). I guess there's something appealing about actually enjoying my own book. I like the way each chapter is a story in its own right. I'm enjoying getting to know so many characters. And I've realized it really is still a mystery, though I changed my mind so many times while writing it. It's a mystery because I didn't know (really... I have a really bad memory) quite where it was going. I remembered the crime and whodunnit of course, but, while reading, even that was gone from my mind. Whodunnit why, and how did he get from here to there? All of this was a mystery again and I loved revisiting it.

Meanwhile I've been reading some "real and literary" mysteries. It must be something to do with having been in England for my mum's birthday. I picked up some English mysteries (reviewed some a week or so  ago), then came home and started picking up mysteries from my to-read bookshelf. Which is entirely wrong of me. I have a long list of books I'm overdue to review. But I needed a break. I needed a chance to read just for me. And here are some reviews of the books I read. They might be mysteries, most of them; and even if they're not, it's still a mystery to guess how someone's getting from there to here and where here will be.

Sometimes where here will be is a surprise as well as a mystery. Harms’ Way by Thomas Rayfiel was a book I found in my mailbox (for review) when I got back from England. I couldn't resist starting. It's not a mystery. It's really a rather dark drama set in a maximum security prison and told by a prisoner. Maybe the reason he's there is a mystery; if so it's very slowly hinted at for so so long, the reader begins to wonder what's true and what's imagined. How the story will end is surely mystery too, as another prisoner maybe kills, as riots and rehousing and a PhD student with too many questions intervene, as ... A very human drama; a very thought-provoking invitation; a dark read requiring a seriously dark cup of coffee I think.

In Bones of Brooklyn by Ira Gold, another first-person novel with another fascinating narrator, the mystery, I guess, is how the protagonist will get around being told to kill someone he likes and learn what's going on. Of course, it soon moves on from there. There's the girlfriend who might have a way out from being scared, and past history (from an earlier novel) that's so naturally interwoven into the tale, readers will never feel they've missed anything. Another dark read. Another dark cup of coffee. And great humor! (Yeah, I guess it's the voice, not the mystery, that enticed me.)

The Dollar-a-year Detective by William Wells is a sequel to Detective Fiction, which I loved. And yes, it's first person again. It's also much more like a standard mystery, with an ex-cop searching for the mafia-style killer of rich yacht-owners. The narration includes social commentary and clear points of view without ever trying to persuade the reader--feels like listening to a real person. And circumstances just might change some of his fixed opinions anyway... making him even more real. Florida, politics, oil, greed and more. Maybe a complex four-star coffee for a tale with a complex character and plot.

Then there's The Occupation of Zaima by Georgeann Packard, which surely isn't mystery but is filled with so many mysteries--who is the girl, what happened to the guy, what about the girlfriend, what about the past, the future, who or what occupies or is occupied... Mysteries that feel like real life. Land that feels so real it's almost a character in the tale. Trees that fruit in due season. It's a stunningly beautiful novel about genuinely wounded people. It sings to the poetry of one of its protagonist. It grow like the blossom on the trees. I love it--can you tell? And you'll need a delightfully well-balanced, smooth three-star coffee to go with the read.

So why did I say I've been reading mysteries. Well, the other books I've picked up and enjoyed are AGreat Deliverance by Elizabeth George, first of the Inspector Lynley mysteries (as seen on TV), set in my beloved Yorkshire and filled with--yes, great characters and relationships, as well as a mystery to be solved; Whose Body by Dorothy L Sayers, first in the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries--probably not the best, but a great place to start since I'm planning to reread them all, and still, certainly, an intriguing mystery, well-told, with smoothly drawn characters and hints of the past; Murder in Belleville by Cara Black, number two in the Aimee Leduc series (because I've already reviewed #1), and a vivid recreation of Paris's dark side--again, a scary mystery combined with great characters and complex plot. Then there's Virtually Lace by Uvi Poznansky, but that's not been released yet. An artistic murder where art and place are genuine (occasionally virtual) characters, it fits this collection perfectly.

So yes, lots of mystery. But maybe more importantly, lots of great characters. What I'm reading at the moment? A children's book, the Wizard of Tut Tut Bun, with a very odd central character and a very chatty style; the first of the "new" Lord Peter Wimsey books--Thrones, Dominations (which I'm absolutely loving!--so much for reading things in order!) and, well, like I said, Divide by Zero, getting it ready for its rerelease--I can hardly wait!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The When, Where and Why of Who

An author whose books I've reviewed is revamping her Amazon page, but who...? Well, Who is one of the novels she had on that page. It's set in the not-too-distant future, here among everyday regular people, and an enticing strangeness has its characters wondering why. Here's my review:

Who - a tale of not-too-future technology and very present-day relevance...

Author Karen Wyle has the knack of taking present-day technology to a not-so-far-fetched future and asking those difficult questions that make it all real. In Who, she invites us into a world where selves can be digitally preserved after death. But will a digital nose still run when we cry? Do digital wrinkles increase or decrease with age? And will the digital self be true to the real? All of which leads to those central, most important questions, of life as well as fiction; how well do we truly know anyone—ourselves or anyone else? And what is self?

 Add politics, perfectly tuned to seem real without offending readers, whatever their persuasion; add art, with music, shape and form to enthrall and absorb; add two people who truly love each other, families who really can overcome disagreement, and a lawyer with vision and purpose; add “Digital Life Denies Life Eternal” messages on protesters’ banners; and add an enticing story that moves swiftly through art and science, religion and politics, relationships and law, love, loss and more—Who is smoothly written, hauntingly imagined, entertaining and thought-provoking, and a really great read.

Disclosure: I was given a copy and I offer my honest review.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Can you handle the publishing journey?

Today I'm delighted to welcome Debbie Lum to my blog, author of the new novel I Can Handle Him. It's her fourth novel, and she's kindly offered to share some details of how she handled the journey toward publication, so over to you Debbie, and thank you for visiting my blog.


I never set out to write a book. I’m not a reader, so books aren’t part of my everyday life. But now that I’ve written five novels, it’s fun to look back at how it all began. Here’s a countdown from the beginning on my publishing journey.

10. I had a story rambling around in my brain. One night, I got off of the treadmill, opened my laptop, and began to type.

9. Two months later, I thought maybe I had written a book. I Googled the words: “What do you do if you think you wrote a book” and devoured the answers. I read blogs. I ordered “How To Get Published” books.

8. According to the blogs and books from #9, I had done everything wrong. So, I tweaked my manuscript.

7. I hired an editor to do a manuscript review. She had good feedback! And she had a major suggestion: change the manuscript from first-person to third-person.

6. I rewrote the manuscript; hired another editor; hired a cover designer and interior formatter; hired a director for a book trailer. I incorporated a business and bought domain names.

5. And this is when I started working on book #2. And book #3.

4. I wrote query letters to agents. “Send five a week,” the reference books said. I sent out my first five and stopped. Why was I trying to get an agent? Self-publishing was easier. Faster. Everything was at my fingertips. I had full control. My own ISBN’s, hundreds of editors and cover designers for me to choose from, and all potential book revenue would be 100% mine.

3. I quietly enlisted friends to read and I listened to their advice. I made adjustments.

2. After a final manuscript review with a professional editor, I uploaded my first book to CreateSpace (Amazon), IngramSpark (Barnes and Noble and libraries) for print and eBook, and then iTunes and Kobo for eBook only.

1. And then three years after opening that blank Word document, I wrote a Facebook post announcing to my friends that I had written a book. They were all shocked but were more surprised when I said that I had already written the second. And then I blew their minds when I announced I had already written the third. That announcement was one crazy-fun way for a non-reader to launch a trilogy.

Wow! It sounds a wonderful way to launch it, and I kind of wish I'd met you years ago! I'm heading into relaunching my trilogy though, so maybe... Many thanks for the advice nicely hidden in your words.

Meanwhile, here's how readers (and other writers)  can find Debbie

Social Media:

and here's some information about that book (in case you've not been reading the quotes in this post):

About the Book:
Quinn Corbin’s got nothing to lose – except her life.

The 24-year-old bubbly optimist has arrived back in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas, with her new Master’s degree in hand, a great teaching job secured and romance on her mind. She and her best friend Tory Taylor are eager to reconnect with each other and some old friends, especially their handsome former co-worker Nick Allen. And Quinn’s finally got Nick’s attention. However, Nick is recovering from a disaster: his girlfriend Sienna Brown died when a fuel line burst as she was driving his car. Many in town blame Nick’s poor car maintenance for the fiery accident. Although Nick was never charged, Sienna’s older brother Reed thinks he should be. And Reed knows a thing or two about cars: his family owns the largest car dealership in town.

But Quinn believes Nick is innocent. So does her best friend Tory, a law student and sarcastic realist. Soon Quinn and Nick find their relationship growing when suddenly their world upends. Now Nick is in major trouble again and Quinn may have made the biggest mistake of her life. With incriminating evidence mounting against Nick, Tory works to prove his innocence. But Nick finds himself in a bigger battle when he must fight to protect, and win, his true love.

About the Author:

DEBBIE K. LUM is an unlikely author of five novels, a non-reader who was inspired by a self-esteem ad campaign encouraging little girls to dream big. Her romantic suspense novels (The Plebeian Series and The Doctor, The Chef, or The Fireman) feature fun, flawed characters with steamy and complicated relationships (and plenty of surprises!) She is a native of Tampa, Florida and earned her baccalaureate degree in Mass Communications at the University of South Florida. She was an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, serving that organization as Sunshine District chairman and president of the Tampa chapter. She enjoyed a 28-year career in marketing, working in banking, tourism and higher education. She splits her time between Florida and Texas. She is married and has two sons, one in law school and the other in college.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Reading for children, or reading for the child in me?

My mum was delighted to have her first great-granddaughter present at her 90th birthday celebrations, and the rest of us were delighted to occasionally hold the baby... well, except for my sons who much preferred cuddling the dogs. In honor of said small child, and using her and all those wonderful celebrations as my excuse for being so late posting book reviews, here are a few reviews of children's books... or books that appeal to the child in me. (I wonder what's the difference--kids books flow fast, are instantly relatable, inform while entertaining, make me think but not too much... What appeals to the child in you?)

First is Gifts of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Demi, a beautiful picture book with clear, readable text, appropriately honest history, and a beautiful blend of simplicity and opulence. It tells the story of the Patroness of Latin America, familiar to many but new to others, with pleasing cultural wisdom and well-researched history--appealing to the child in me for its gorgeous images and for the fact that I'm not actually familiar with the tale. Enjoy it with some well-balanced three-star coffee, and know it's a book to keep returning to as the child reader grows older.

Then there's the Land without Color and The Great Sugar war by Benjamin Ellefson, and the Wizard of Tut Tut Bun and Becoming the Wizard of... by John McCarrick. Enjoy these light reads (as I am doing--they appeal to the child in me by being quick easy reads with few complications) with some light crisp one-star coffee.

For somewhat older kids (or rather, young adults), The Gryphon Saga by L. E. Horn, containing Freeform and Freefight, takes characters from modern-day earth and transplants them far away among fascinating aliens with strange physical forms and characters nicely derived from backstory and type. Ideas from modern genetics are included too, and the characters change very convincingly while staying essentially the same--leading to interesting questions, of course, of what makes us, human or alien, who we are (now there's a question for the child in anyone!). The boxed set is still in pre-release; watch for it coming soon! Tales from the Gryphon Saga: The Fang War will probably release at the same time. And all can be accompanied by elegant, complex four-star coffee.

Finally, because  the history and excitment appeal without any question to the child in me,The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell begins the author's Saxon Chronicles (adult fiction) and vividly recreates a well-researched Britain long before it became in any way United. Inviting readers to support both sides in a war is an intriguing task, well executed, as Uhtred son of Uhtred grows up among the Danes, fights for the Kingdom of Wessex, and finds himself battling for the constantly shifting ground of the future England. I love the characters; I love the honest, unmythical depictions of competing religions, and, of course, I love the historical England (present day... that's a different story as we break up what we fought so hard to unite). Enjoy this one with some more elegant complex four-star coffee.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Not always romantic?

Goodreads wants me to classify books by shelves, but my own bookshelves are such a jumble, especially after returning from vacation. Is this one history or romance; paranormal or science fiction; contemporary drama or... well, or romance again. Yeah, romance seems to feature a lot, but it's not always romantic. Just like vacations maybe. So, while my husband and I endure the terrifying romance of World Cup Football, here are a few reviews of moderately romantic, sometimes terrifying books. And maybe I'll catch up enough to enjoy some non-football romance afterward with my long-suffering spouse.

There again, England's not been knocked out yet. Romance will be snacks and coffee on the sofa at seven in the morning to watch the next match!

In no particular order (except it seems to be the order I read these in):

First is Circled: Part of the Crime After Time Collection by Anne McAneny---crime, romance, mystery, murder, and some truly intriguing questions of how the past defines us, how past decisions dictate future cares, and how past betrayals don't have to last forever. Enjoy this one with some dark, intense five-star coffee.

Next is Ocean of Fear by Helen Hanson, a tale of a moderately unprincipled, wounded nerd, who meets up with some seriously unprincipled opposition. Slightly futuristic, intriguingly convincing, and told with just a light enough touch, it's darkly enjoyable tale and goes well with some easy-drinking two-star coffee. And yes, there's romance or failed romance hiding somewhere in the mix.

Spectre of Intention by Tonya Macalino is another moderately futuristic tale, set around the opening of the first space elevator. There's romance, for sure. But there are also intriguing questions of identity, security, independence and more. Enjoy with some complex four-star coffee.

Bull Demon King by J A Cipriano is short, sharp and exciting; a paranormal tale in the author's Thrice-Cursed Mage series, pitting a mage of unknown (but clearly limited) power against a monster whose limits are unknown. There's a girlfriend, but not much time for romance. The voice is convincing and strong, and the tale's best read with a good strong dark cup of five-star coffee.

Next is another novel blending present day and the future, normal and paranormal, every day people and tomorrow's mystery. Bob by Pat Bertram hasn't yet been released, but fans of the author, or of Hitchhiker's Guide, or of Lamb will be quickly enthralled. And yes, there's a touch of romance (and much much more)

Bruised Spirits by Alice Duncan is a mystery in a long-running series, with romance that grows gradually and fits the characters, time and location perfectly. Coolly evocative, cleverly narrated, the novels recreate LA of the 1920s while inviting thought about the present. Blending serious issues with entertaining action adventure, it's one to enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Daybreak by Sherrie Hansen is romance and more. After all, the characters already married in the previous novel (Night and Day). Now they're dealing with the realities of family life, how to protect each other, how to communicate, and blended families. It's a heady mix and just might break them up again. But the author deals with each step of their trials in an honest convincing manner, making it a cool, enthralling read. Enjoy the rich blend (when it's released) with some richly blended four-star coffee.

And finally, here's one that's just for authors: 180 literary journals for creative writers by Emily Harstone It's good. I should make use of it! And it does have sections on romance (though I'm not sure I'm up to writing romance... I'll work on it).

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Can you count to seven?

I went back to England for a month, celebrating my mum's 90th birthday, enjoying the countryside, coast and castles of North Wales, and spending time with family in the north and south of England. It was a great trip and I read many books; I even wrote some book reviews. But I've not written any blogposts for ages, and I've not written any more chapters of Imaginary Numbers (which is fast becoming ever more imaginary as its predecessors have now all been unpublished), and I've not...

And now I'm back. I must:
  1. post book reviews
  2. buy ISBNs so I can self-publish more convincingly
  3. republish my novels (using those ISBNs, then I won't be at the mercy of publishers changing course)
  4. republish my Bible stories (which are also in the process of being unpublished, this time due to ill health)
  5. read (I'm always reading)
  6. write (I wish I had time)
  7. shop, clean, cook, wash, plant bushes, shop, clean, cook... etc.
If you've ever looked at my muse you'll know I have a thing about sevens. So maybe now I'll try to post seven book reviews. Let's see...

Books read while on vacation:

I read The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith on the plane. It's a good plane read; like others in the Scotland Street series, the chapters are nicely independent, quickly recapped where necessary, and each have a completeness of their own. So it's easy to put down the book for a glorious view or a meal or a drink. It's also a very pleasing tale of tangled loves and lives, and has a generous sense of "home." Perfect for the trip. Perfect for a well-balanced cup of well-balanced three-star coffee.

When I arrived I soon found my mum was about to give away her copy of The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan so I had to read it--if only I'd had more room in my cases! A fascinating novel filled with short short stories, quiet little mysteries, pleasing characters and relationships, and, of course, the question of those lost things we leave behind; will the protagonist rise to the challenge of a fuller life? Are these characters related? And who will welcome a stranger? The connections may be a little forced, but that doesn't stop the novel moving forward with a force of its own and I really enjoyed it. Just add complex four-star coffee.

She wasn't about to give away Cartes Postales from Greece by Victoria Hislop so I borrowed it. Of course, I always love Victoria Hislop. I love the way she recreates a country, its light and shadows, the scents and sense of history, and the relationships of people. This one has the curious added attraction of black and white images and a blend of genres--novels, short stories (again), romance, mystery and more. Enjoy with some rich elegant four-star coffee.

From Greece to Manchester, my next review is of Salem Street by Anna Jacobs, another one borrowed from Mum. It evokes the language history and people of Lancashire beautifully, and I hear the dialects of my youth ringing from its pages, see the streets, and ponder my roots anew. Add some strong female protagonists, and the world of England's dark satanic mills truly comes to life. Enjoy with another rich elegant four-star coffee.

I bought a copy of The Arsenic Labyrinth by Martin Edwards from one of those great English bookstores where you find random books from random series seriously discounted. A great introduction to so many great authors and places, and how could I resist a mystery set in the Lake District? Downbeat, evocative, with fascinating detail, great characters, and a wonderful small town feeling, the Arsenic Labyrinth is one to enjoy with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Another book from the same store is The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves. I love watching Vera on TV and I was delighted to find the first book in the series she is drawn from. It didn't disappoint. Clever, complex, told from multiple points of view, and trapping the reader as surely as any of the characters or crows are trapped. Who will be victim and who is the lure? Enjoy with a dark five-star coffee.

Then there's Sole Survivor by Dean Koonz--a very different novel but it was in the same bookstore and I've always enjoyed his books. This one felt slightly manipulative toward the end, but the setup was fantastic and the protagonist, sitting alone on a California beach, is a stranger I feel I've almost met. Slightly paranormal after a seriously scary set, it's another one to enjoy with a dark five-star coffee.

And finally, because I need to stop typing and drink coffee, and I'm too jetlagged to count to seven, there's The eleventh hour by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. Oddly enough, this one was in a collection of random items handed over to me on the death of my 100-year-old aunt. So, of course, I had to read it. It's the 11th in a series with female protagonists solving murders. Not having ready any of the previous books, I was pleasantly surprised to find the women all have good reason to be solving murders, and interesting characters and relationships with others as well as with each other. The mystery's well-plotted too, and it's a quick read to enjoy with some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.