Reading is the way I relax at the end of the day. I usually give myself one and a half to two hours to read before I start for bed. I think my parents instilled too much work ethic in me, but I feel guilty reading during the day. I feel like I should be “doing” something. I’m retired, so I thought that guilt would go away, but not so much, even though I tried giving it up for Lent one year. It’s still stuck with me.

I can’t read lying in bed. I either get antsy or I fall asleep. HH watches TV lying on the couch. I can’t do that either. It’s an upright position for me. And when I pick up my Kindle, it’s a comfortable chair with a good lamp.

I like to mix up the genres of the books I read. Lately, I bounced from science fiction to urban fantasy to cozies to historical mysteries. I just finished A STROKE OF MALICE by Anna Lee Huber, and I loved it. Sad to say, though, this book catches me up on the Lady Darby series, so I have to wait for the next one to come out. <sigh> But she does have a novella in a recently published anthology, so I bought that. The Deadly Hours. It follows a cursed watch from one owner to another to tell what havoc it wreaks.

I finished the first novella in the collection last night. Actually, I stayed up late to finish it. I’ve never read Susanna Kearsley before. It took me a minute to get into the story and her writing style, but then I was hooked. I think it’s hard to pull off a strong hero who’s a man of few words, but she did it. A hardened soldier, Hugh MacPherson is on a mission to keep the Duke of Ormonde alive from an assassin sent to kill him before he reaches Rome. But for this mission, Hugh’s accompanied by his clever wife, Mary. The push and pull of his emotions, which he rarely shows, are fascinating. At the same time, his Mary is trying to make him understand that she doesn’t want to be locked in their room and protected. She wants to be part of his life. Add to this an infamous pirate now working for his government, who owns the cursed watch, and there are many layers to this story. Even a card game becomes part of the strategy. And the ending had several clever twists. A real winner.

Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby novella is the next to further the story of the watch. I’m looking forward to that one. Then there are two more, and they both sound wonderful. I’ve read C.S. Harris and enjoy her Sebastian St. Cyr series, but Christine Trent is new to me. Always a good thing to find new authors to follow in an anthology.

(Which, by the way, is a good reason to check out the anthology I’m in with six other talented writers. I know. A cheap plug. Sorry about that, but I’m really proud of Murder They Wrote, and I’d love for it to find more readers).

Anyway, I hope you’re enjoying what you’re reading as much I am right now. Next up on my list is The Lab by D.L. Cross, the last book in her thriller/scifi series, and I can’t wait to see what happens to the characters I’ve followed through her last four books! So I KNOW there’s even more good reading in my future.

Happy Reading!

Paring Down

My bookshelves are filled.  Again.  And I’ve bought more books.  I have a book habit.  And some of the new books I’ve read, I want to keep.  So it’s time to do my once a year shelf cleaning that shouldn’t take lots of time, but always does, because it’s hard to part with old favorites to make way for new favorites.  Books aren’t just about reading, for me, they’re about emotional attachment, too.  But I’ve made a firm rule for myself.  If a book doesn’t fit on my shelves, I pass it along to someone else.

I have a friend who just keeps buying more and more bookshelves to hold her collections.  If I were better at dusting, that might be an option, but since I avoid it as long as possible, I know better than to think I’ll dust more.  Besides, I rarely reread books, so I’m only keeping them because they touched me and when I look at them, they bring back memories of what they store between their covers.  I grow attached to them, to the characters who walked their pages, and I want to keep them in my life.  Books in my Kindle are different.  I’ve actually loved some of them more than books I’ve held in my hands, but I don’t get the same emotional attachment when I stare at their covers on my Kindle screen.

My husband rarely buys a book, but he visits the library every week.  He flies through novels while I’m savoring only one.  The only books he saves are tomes on famous historical figures, so that he can recheck his facts.  I can’t say that the books I save are because they’re especially well-written or deep or pithy.  I save them because they touched me somehow.  One of the oldest books I have was once my mother’s–BETTY ZANE, by Zane Grey.  She loaned it to me, and when I told her how much I loved it, she told me to keep it; it was mine.  Now that Mom’s gone, I love that book because it moved me and because it reminds me of Mom.

Different books on my shelves remind me of different periods in my life.  I read Nancy Pickard’s mysteries when I was trying to sell cozies and our girls were finishing grade school and middle school.  My daughter Holly read every cozy that I wrote and would stay up late at night with me to watch English mysteries that I’d recorded on PBS.  My daughter Robyn loved me, but not mysteries.  I stayed up with her to watch comedies and Weird Al Yankovich music videos.  I have two shelves that hold all of Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series and Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novels.  I read those when I was writing urban fantasy and my grandsons lived with us, and I read chapters of Harry Potter to them every night.  I have an entire shelf of Elizabeth George novels because…well, to me, Elizabeth George is a goddess of literary mystery writers.  I have 3/4 of a shelf of Martha Grimes, too.  And then are cookbooks.  Don’t ask.  And a shelf full of books written by the people in my writers’ group.

I have several shelves full of books that I just thought stood head and shoulders above the rest for writing and plotting and pacing.  So…how to choose?  But choose, I must. We’ve been in this house a long time, and it’s full of things we love, but my hub and I both hate clutter.  If something new comes in, something has to go to make room for it.  Sigh.  This is going to be a tough week.  I hope, when I pass the books I have to part with along, someone else loves them as much as I did.




The Last Pages

I’ve been reading more than usual lately–my new goal.  I can’t begin to keep up with reviewers or Goodreads or my friend Les Edgerton (who writes a great blog and flies through books), but I’ve set a more realistic goal for myself.  Sort of like exercising and dieting.  For me, moderation means I might actually stick to it.  I’m trying to read one book every week (unless it’s really long, and then I’m in trouble.  I’m a slow reader.  And unless I have house guests.  Then I’d rather visit than read.  And we’ve had a lot of house guests lately).  But things are calming down again, and I have a new book to start.  Happiness:)

I’ve been reading a little bit of everything–a few fun mysteries, an Elizabeth George literary style mystery, a paranormal romance, and a mystery/suspense romance.  These days, I’m too old and too grumpy to finish novels I don’t like.  If the characters are cardboard and the plot sags and waffles, I’m over it.  On top of that, I can’t turn off the editor in my head, so I think I’m pickier than I used to be.  Too many grammar mistakes, verb tenses that change every other paragraph, and I pitch the book.  That means, when I finish a novel, it had to have the basics right and be interesting enough to make me want to spend time with it.  If it’s five-star instead of four-star, all the better.

That said, I’ve been surprised at how many books I’ve joyfully flipped through lately and then grumbled when I reached the last pages.  A great cover and an interesting blurb can lure me to buy a book.  How the author ends that book is what tempts me to buy her next one.  I’m not talking about cliffhangers here.  They annoy me.   I’m talking about satisfying endings.  My agent would attest that I wasn’t too good at them when I sent her my first books.  I was forever having to add a few more scenes or building up the big, black moment, because I rushed the last pages of my books.  It took me a while to figure out that I’d spent the first three-fourths of the story, cranking up to a big showdown for a win/lose situation, and that showdown had better deliver.

Endings are important.  But in three of the mysteries I read, the author forced the finale. Protagonists whom I followed because they were smart and clever did the unthinkable (for me) and walked into stupid situations to prove that the villain was the villain.  It felt like the moment in horror movies when you shout at the TV, “Don’t go in the basement!”  Because a murderer is loose.  People are dying.  And you hear a noise in the basement.  So…you go down there to investigate??  Really???  Why would anyone do that?  I felt the same way about the last pages of those mysteries.  A smart person occasionally does stupid things, but not just to force the showdown between the good guy and the villain.

Info dumps should never happen in a novel–anywhere.  The information should be sprinkled here and there, in one scene and then another, until the reader knows whatever he needs to know before he needs to know it.  But when the info dump comes at the end of the novel, to explain everything that’s happened, it really stands out and slows the reader down.  Whatever tension is happening–like when the killer is holding a gun on the amateur sleuth–fizzles when they start talking about why the villain killed the guy we tripped over at the beginning of the book.  When I watched the movie Kingsman: the Secret Service, I had to laugh when Samuel Jackson holds a gun on Colin Firth and says something like, “In a movie, this is where I’d explain everything I’ve done and why to you, but this ain’t that kind of movie, bro.”  And shoots him.  Dead.  Long explanations are sort of like long, extended death scenes where the dying man talks on and on.  It’s hard to suspend disbelief.

An author should do the work ahead of time so that everything’s in place for the good guy and the bad guy to clash for the final showdown.  And that showdown should be powerful enough to justify all the suffering the protagonist’s done leading up to it.  And the last scenes, after the showdown, should leave the reader satisfied that the protagonist got his happy ending (if you want a happy ending) or awful enough (if you’re going for not-so-happy endings).  I know that there are endings that leave readers hanging, to decide the outcome for themselves, but I’m not a fan of those.  They feel like a cop-out.  But to each, his own.  We all like different things.


I should never read Elizabeth George

Okay, everyone knows that writers need to read.  We learn.  We grow.  We re-energize.  We learn markets.  We internalize rhythms, techniques.  But there are some authors I should just stay away from.  And Elizabeth George is one of them.  I asked for a banquet of consequences for Christmas.  My sister bought it for me, but I was so swamped with manuscripts, I couldn’t get to it.  My good writing friend, Paula, read it and loved it.  We both appreciate Elizabeth George’s depth and language, her layers and nuances.  This last week, I finally got to start the book.  Poor me.

Elizabeth George makes me feel like I should sit in a corner and suck my thumb with a dunce hat on.  She makes me feel juvenile and inadequate, and I love her for it!  Every time I read her, she makes me want to strive harder, to show, not tell, to use small scenes to create big emotions.  She has a way of developing fully realized characters with strokes of dialogue, small gestures, telling details.  Sigh.  It’s a good thing she takes a long time between books, or else my ego might not survive.  She writes mysteries, but I consider her more of a literary writer.  The story’s characters outweigh the clues.  To be honest, I loved her early books, studied A Great Deliverance because I thought it was near-perfect, then had a rocky time for a few of her last books, but with this one, I’m back in reading Nirvana.

I feel the same way when I read a Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson novel.  Briggs writes urban fantasy–and who knew a writer could make that almost literary?  But for me, she pulls it off.  Yes, there are battles, struggles, and plenty of mythology.  But once again, Briggs’s use of language and her emphasis on characterization lift urban fantasy into literary status.  Everyone has their own likes/dislikes.  And I usually avoid literary with a vengeance, but when an author can combine the two–boy, am I impressed!

I hope your favorite authors never disappoint and always inspire you!  Happy Reading!  And as always, happy writing!


Writing–Read, read, read

I’ve mentioned before that a writer should read whatever genre they write.  Why?  To see what’s out there, how other authors do it, and what’s essential to bring readers to that type of story.  If you read enough, you’ll learn the genre’s rhythms and guidelines, but for every few novels I read in urban fantasy, I like to read a few that are outside my usual tastes.   Why do I do that?  Because my first love is good writing.  What I truly respect and admire are authors who can transcend their genres.

I learn a lot from reading novels that stretch the basics, authors who combine literary with genre plotlines.  That sounds sort of snobby, I know, but there are lots of authors whom I enjoy to read because they tell a good story and keep me turning the pages.  When I find an author who can do that AND blow me away with their use of language and imagery, I’ve found my own personal, reading Nirvana.  And I study how they do it.

I’ve said it before, and I’m not being humble–just realistic–that I think of myself as a writer, not an author.  I’m the person who asked for anthologies by Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty one year for Christmas, read every story, drooled at their mastery as wordsmiths, but asked myself, “What was that story really about?”  I look for plots.  I look for BIG book questions.  I enjoy subtleties, but I want more.  So for me, the perfect combination is a wordsmith who writes great stories.

Why am I thinking about this right now?  I’m reading Neil Gaimann’s American Gods.  The man’s skill and imagination blow me away.  The story?  I’m struggling with, and at first, it confused me.  It’s all the things I like–gods; myths; amazing, original ideas; and writing skills that make me bookmark pages on my Kindle and drool.   He can write scenes that make me squirm, that make my jaw drop, or that make my heart ache.  He writes scenes that shock me because I didn’t see what was coming.  So why am I inching my way through chapter after chapter?  Because each chapter in and of itself is amazing, but I still don’t see any progress in the plot.  And I’m a plot-driven girl.  I’m also a character-driven reader, and even though I really like Shadow–and I REALLY like him–he’s just moving through the novel.  At first, I thought I was having trouble with him because he simply reacts to everything instead of being pro-active–forming a game plan and trying to achieve something–but then I realized that he doesn’t even really react to what happens to him.  He simply deals with it and moves on.  And I guess, for me, that makes it hard for me to follow him, because I don’t know where he’s going or even what he wants.  I think that’s intentional, but boy, I never realized what a big difference it would make for me, the reader.

The thing is, though, I’m learning a LOT from reading this book.  I study how Gaimann sets up his scenes, because he’s GOOD at it.  It’s almost easier to be objective about his writing, because I’m not flipping pages as fast as I can to see what happens next.  It’s not my usual, genre read, so I’m not in any certain rhythm, waiting for the next plot point to happen.  I have time to really think about what I admire (and am jealous about) in his writing, and what slows me down.  And that, in itself, has been an awesome experience.

American Gods feels like an unusual, quirky read.  I’m glad I found it, even though I’m late.  The last novel I read–out of my comfort zone–was Les Edgerton’s Just Like That.  Noir.  Another genre I’m unfamiliar with.  That man’s another brilliant wordsmith.  Would I ever write noir?  No, and that’s the point.  Did I learn from reading it?  Yes, there’s a certain rawness about noir that I’d love to incorporate into my own writing.  And that’s what I’ve found interesting.  I learn more about writing–nouns and verbs strung together into sentences–when I read outside my genre.  I learn more about storytelling–what to put where–when I read inside it.  All of it worth my time.