Tag Archives: reading

When your karma needs a swift kick in the rear

A few days ago, I said something stupid and thoughtless and inconsiderate to a fellow writer on twitter, a writer whose work I admire greatly. I was trying to tell her how much I loved one of her books and instead . . . well, it was graceless to say the least. And I’m ashamed of myself. I know better than to try to say something complicated on twitter, let alone anything negative. Idiot. I considered deleting it, but it’s out there and I need to suck it up and own it. It’s not the first time and, knowing me, it won’t be the last. Nature of the beast.

But instead of dwelling on it, I decided maybe it’s time to remind myself to focus on the positive and recommend a few books I’ve read in the past several months and truly enjoyed. (Yes, that writer’s are among them.)

Keep in mind, these are NOT book reviews. I don’t do that anymore, partly because Amazon thinks writers shouldn’t be allowed to review books [really, Amazon? REALLY?], but also because on the rare occasions I’ve done a review over here I get a bunch of requests to do more. So please don’t ask me. I’m not a book reviewer. I’ll hate saying it, but the answer will be no.

I’ve been reading (and writing) a lot of romance lately, so these recommendations are all in that genre, although that might be the only similarity among them. Some are sweet romance and others are . . . a good bit darker. Or steamier. The links are all to Amazon but probably you could get these books elsewhere as well.

81HL-pHEgTL._SL1500_First is Jackie Ashenden’s TALKING DIRTY WITH THE BOSS. Don’t let the title fool you into thinking this book is about, y’know, talking dirty with the boss. Okay, fine, that’s part of it. But it’s so much more than that (hence my dislike for the title, but we just won’t talk about that) (any more). The hero has OCD issues, which is a spectrum and not the same for everyone, and Ashenden handles it so well and this guy comes across as troubled but also gruffly sweet and charming, and the relationship felt genuine. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end.

Besides being incredibly gracious when you say stupid things to her on twitter, Ashenden has become as close to an auto-buy as I get. I’ve purchased the first two books in her Nine Circles series — I loved the excerpts — and am saving them to read as a reward for finishing a project, but other books of hers I’ve read and would recommend are:

HAVING HER (Lies We Tell Book 2)
TAKING HIM (Lies We Tell Book 1)
NEVER SEDUCE A SHEIKH (International Bad Boys Book 2)
THE BILLIONAIRE’S CLUB: New York boxed set

Next up is Rebecca Zanetti. I read the first three in her Sin Brothers series and then pretty much gorged on her backlist while waiting for the fourth book, which recently came out. She writes the kind of ridiculously strong alpha male heroes that you’d want to strangle in real life and, if you like that (I love that), you probably can’t go wrong with any of her books. But this particular series is a “highly recommend” from me. It’s listed as paranormal, but it’s not your standard witches and vamps and were-things. It’s more that the heroes all have enhanced abilities (hearing, strength, etc).

FORGOTTEN SINS
SWEET REVENGE
BLIND FAITH
TOTAL SURRENDER

81WeEVt9H+L._SL1500_Carolyn Crane is another auto-buy for me. Just go to her Author Page and pick anything, but I especially love her Undercover Associates series. She also writes as Annika Martin and the book she co-wrote with Skye Warren, PRISONER, is one of the most disturbing yet well-written books I’ve read in a long time. But seriously, heed the warning about dubious (or complete lack of) consent. This book isn’t for everyone.

Let’s see, who else? I guess I’m really recommending writers more than particular books at this point, so I’ll just go ahead and link to their Author Page over at Amazon or I’ll be over here all day listing books.

Sarah Morgan is another auto-buy (the O’Neil Brothers trilogy is wonderful) and the first in her new Puffin Island series was delightful as well.

81NyUmbtEfL._SL1500_Victoria Dahl, of course. I’m a huge fan of her writing and, really, of everything she says on twitter (when she’s not taking an ill-advised well deserved extended break from it) (ahem). She has a new book coming out in July titled TAKING THE HEAT, which you can pre-order now (I sure did and I don’t even know, or care, what it’s about).

Oh, and Kelly Hunter is another terrific writer with an extensive backlist. She has recently started publishing with Tule (so have a bunch of other talented writers) and I’ve loved those books — SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and THE HONEYMOON TRAP, for example — as well as the ones with Harlequin, especially the ones subtitled The Bennett Family (strong heroes, stronger heroines).

Kat Latham has become a favourite as well. I absolutely love her charming rugby players and have read all of her books, including her latest that just came out in May. So good.

I’m also really enjoying Laura Kaye’s HARD INK series, even though I’ve gotten a couple books behind. The ones I’ve read have been fantastic.

Oh, and a relatively new-to-me writer, Karyn Lawrence, has two books out, KEEP and STAY. I read and enjoyed both and it looks like a third, SURRENDER, is coming out later this month. There’s a good bit of violence, so be wary if that offends you. Although, thinking about it, that’s true of many of the books mentioned above.

I think that’s enough for now. Pretty sure I’ve included enough links that this will go directly into the spam folder of those subscribing by email. Ooops.

Mind you, these are just a handful of writers whose books I’ve enjoyed recently. No one paid me, or even asked me, to recommend these books and I didn’t get any of them for free. Well, unless it was a free-to-everyone kind of deal. That’s entirely possible. It’s not an exhaustive list of favourites or even of All-Time Best reads. I’d never be able to come up with such a list. There are just too many.

But don’t take my word for it. My reading preferences are pretty varied and just because you might like my writing* doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything I read. So read the description and sample pages, peruse the reviews, make up your own mind. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new favourite.

Got any recommendations of your own? Leave a title or a link in the comments, all genres welcome. I’m always looking for new ways to procrastinate good books to read. I read fast and devour a LOT of books when I’m not writing, or embarrassing myself on twitter. Which I will go back to doing now. The writing, not the other thing.

*Reminder: if you want me to send you an email when I have a new book available, sign up here for my mailing list.

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COUNTY LINE by Bill Cameron: a book review

Bill Cameron’s new release COUNTY LINE occupied a special place in my heart long before the final draft was finished. Because I got to name a character in it [see links below]. I know how much time and attention writers give to naming characters, so I expected the character with the name I chose — Nash — would be killed off at the earliest opportunity. Imagine my surprise and delight when Chief Nash not only survived but also turned out to be someone who was mentioned more than casually. He even has lines of dialog. (BTW, I really really REALLY like this character.)

Oh, but wait, before I go any further, thanks to the FTC and my conscience, probably you should know the following, if you don’t already:

DISCLAIMER #1:  I am not a book reviewer. You can tell because I do it all wrong and go on at length here before I even get around to talking about the book.

DISCLAIMER #2:  Bill Cameron is a Very Nice Guy and I kinda like him, even though I’ve never met him, and not just because he’s one of three people who will occasionally talk to me on twitter (okay, there are maybe four). I mean, really, he could be from Minnesota. He’s that nice. Even his agent is nice. (What? She totally let me win that bid.)

DISCLAIMER #3:  I did not pay for my copy of COUNTY LINE so, technically, it was free. Then again, I only got a free copy because I was the highest bidder (aka, Most Tenacious Participant) in one segment of an online auction held last spring to benefit flood victims in Nashville. As a result, I also received “free” copies of Cameron’s other books: LOST DOG, CHASING SMOKE and DAY ONE as well as the anthology KILLER YEAR in which he has a short story. Since it’s public knowledge that my bid was $333.00, one might alternately conclude that I paid $66.60 for each of those five books. I know, that’s sort of ridiculous, budget-wise, except it was for a good cause. And a rare opportunity to have fun and say completely outrageous things in public.

In any event, one might question my judgment here, either as a reviewer or a purchaser of books. Probably both. And you might be right, but the fact is that I read a crap ton of books and rarely review one and only do so when I think it is in some way exceptional.

So… in my humble opinion, you all should buy COUNTY LINE simply for the exceptional dedication. And because I’m also mentioned in the acknowledgments.

Okay fine, I’ll be serious.

In spite of receiving those four books from Bill Cameron roughly a year ago, I haven’t read any of them. Partly that’s because I’ve become thoroughly addicted to ebooks and the books I received were print versions and they were so… damn… heavy. I mean, they each weigh, like, fifty pounds. Maybe more. Plus there’s all that strenuous manual labour of turning pages…

The real reason? I started reading DAY ONE and got about a half chapter into it and, even though it was interesting and well written, I just knew it was not going to end with rainbows and unicorns. My head was in a very dark place at that time and I pretty much needed to read something more along the lines of lighthearted romance. So I set it aside. And never got back to it. My bad.

Then, a couple weeks ago, along comes COUNTY LINE. Finally! Cameron sent me the ebook version (and incredibly, generously, also put a signed HC copy to me in the mail!) (did I mention he’s nice?), so no excuses about weak arm muscles and lack of stamina. I’ve been SO looking forward to this book but was genuinely afraid to read it. Because, you know, I really kinda like Bill Cameron. What if I hated his book? Crime fiction is not exactly my favourite genre, though I can overlook that. But what if he wasn’t as good a writer as I suspected he was? What if I had nothing positive to say about this book? What if there were plot holes and inconsistencies and… and… and, I don’t know, typos! Or BEARS!!

Have I ever mentioned my tendency to worry needlessly? I need to stop doing that.

Here’s the actual review. Once Amazon fixes the unholy mess they made by listing information about a completely different book, I’ll post it over there too:

COUNTY LINE is a masterpiece of storytelling. Some critics have described it as “crime noir” — I’m not entirely certain what that means, but it seems to fit: the book has an undeniably dark tone and crimes are committed. It’s a genre in which I’m not well read. But I know good writing when I see it, regardless of genre, and in reading this book it became patently obvious very early on that Cameron is a fiercely talented writer.

The protagonist, Skin Kadash, a homicide cop for 25 years, is now retired and living in Portland, OR. Ruby Jane, the woman he cares about — even he seems reluctant to define her as something more serious, given that he’s not quite sure his feelings are reciprocated — has gone missing. And there’s a dead guy in her bathtub. So Kadash sets out on a mission to find her. This book is about his relentless journey halfway across the country and back, and deep into Ruby Jane’s painful past, to find a woman who seems determined not to let anyone discover where, or who, she really is.

Kadash is smart and also a bit of a smart-ass. He’s wryly self-deprecating while at the same time projecting a tough quiet confidence in his knowledge and experience as a cop. He’s not afraid of physical pain, in fact seems to expect it, but is vulnerable to emotional anguish — his own, but especially that of others. It’s a delicate balance and Cameron draws that line with finesse.

Ruby Jane is a pure mess. We see her primarily though the hellish yet oddly matter-of-fact first hand account of events from her distant past. She’s a character featured in earlier books, but I haven’t read those so my first impressions are not of her as a grown woman but as a teen, a girl with experiences and responsibilities beyond her years. Her story is heartbreaking without being maudlin. Her strength and resilience stand as defiant affirmation without the lecture. Again, an incredibly difficult but brilliant characterization.

In fact, the depictions of Ruby Jane’s horribly dysfunctional home life and of teenage girls with their capacity for cliquish cruelty are handled so well, with such simple unflinching authenticity, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend COUNTY LINE as a YA selection.

Cameron employs a complicated and potentially disjointed method of telling this story, switching between present and past events and offering narrative from diverse alternate points of view, but he pulls it all together seamlessly. There’s just enough wry humour to keep it from being too dark, just enough sensitivity to serve as a salve to the brutality, and definitely enough “what the hell is going on?” to make it gripping and unpredictable all the way to the end.

I highly recommend COUNTY LINE to anyone who loves a darkly compelling story with flawed yet fascinating characters and appreciates a writer who demonstrates a commanding facility with language. Not to mention a deft hand with a dedication.

I’m giving it 5/5 stars.

Frankly, I’m sort of intimidated now, in awe of Cameron’s talent as a writer, and will probably never talk to him on twitter, ever again. [Did I just hear a distant sigh of relief?]

Not that I’ll have time to spend on twitter any time soon. I’m going to have to start lifting weights so I can read that hefty backlist of his sitting over there on my bookshelf, sulking in all its neglected magnificence.

Or maybe I’ll just buy the ebook versions…

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SICK, by Brett Battles: a book review

Those of you who know me also know I love a good conspiracy. Wrap one up in a fast-paced action-packed thriller and I’m a goner. Brett Battles has written such a book: SICK. That’s not “sick” as in depraved or gruesome, but sick as in a swiftly spreading and relentlessly lethal flu virus.

I loved this book. I don’t say that often — and not just because very few people care what I think about the books I’ve read — simply because it’s rare for me to discover a book I think deserves unqualified praise. This one does. I stayed up very very late two nights in a row last weekend, reading an advance copy of this ebook. If you love thrillers, I wouldn’t advise starting this one on a night when lack of sleep is going to be an issue the next day.

This is the first book I’ve read from Brett Battles, though I can’t imagine why, as it’s certainly not the first he’s written. I’ll be remedying that oversight in the near future. I love it when I find a terrific new-to-me writer and they have a backlist for me to devour in my spare time. What? You scoff? Yes, I have a wee bit of spare time. Even I need to take an occasional break and just read.

I’m not much for writing reviews and probably I’m going about it all wrong by not detailing the plot [you can read the synopsis (and buy it!) here at Amazon, and the gripping first few lines here at Murderati], but below is the review I’ll be posting at Amazon. As soon as I remember how that all works over there:

Brett Battles’ novel SICK starts with a gut punch to the vulnerability of anyone who has ever loved someone and feared losing them. Then it throws in dark hints of a highly organized conspiracy perpetrated by an apparently well-funded group masquerading as an entity of the government.

Next thing you know, it has wrapped a strong hand around the back of your neck and is whispering harsh and urgent in your ear, “Go. Run. You fail to keep up, you so much as stumble, we all die.” Then it throws you off the edge of a cliff, ratcheting up your paranoia and adrenaline in a race to the finish.

I love it when that happens. Well, in a book anyway.

SICK is an edge of your seat thrill ride with well-developed characters and a compelling storyline, detailed by the workings of a marvelously fertile and wickedly inventive imagination. With SICK, Battles has written one of the best thrillers of the year.

A word of caution to those who like a story where all the threads are wrapped up in a neat pretty package at the end: This book is the first in a series. There are a few things left unresolved here, some questions left unanswered. Which only makes me that much more impatient for the next book, already an auto-buy. Luckily for us (and for him), Battles writes fast.

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A Rose by any other name… better not be Rosa

Let’s talk about names. Character names. Why? Because I need a new blog post here and I’ve got the flu and feel like I got hit by a truck and then it backed up and ran over me a few more times to make sure it didn’t miss anything. Not to mention that pesky 102.4 degree fever I can’t seem to shake. And names are an easy topic.

Names are not like other words. They’re nouns, but they don’t (usually) have meaning. When I’m reading, I use them as visual placeholders. If someone names a character “Terpsqwillicent,” the first time I see it I’m going to actually read it and try to sound it out. I’m also going to spend a moment sincerely hoping that writer is never put in charge of naming real human beings. Or family pets. But after that, every time I see the name, my brain is going to see it as “character with the long T-name.” No, I’m not actually going to think “character with the long T-name.” I’m just going to recognize it for its shape and length. Not a problem. Unless there’s another character named “Tarpsqualdiment.” That would be bad.

The problem of too-similar names is a longstanding yet mild gripe of mine, but a couple books I read this weekend brought it from a low simmer to a boil. Or maybe that was just the fever. Most writers spend a good deal of time thinking up names for their characters. I know I do. But sometimes I’m left wondering just what the hell they were thinking.

One of the books I read had two male protagonists, though one was (slightly) more significant. It was romantic suspense, so they each had a female character who was the romantic interest and with whom they faced danger and resisted/pursued sexual attraction. With admirable courage. One woman was named Olivia and the other Vivienne. Nice names. Original names. All is good.

Except . . . everyone is soon referring to them by their nicknames. Liv and Vivi. I swear, maybe it’s just me — really, it might just be me — but those names are too damn similar. Made worse because the two males are so similar: both macho Delta/Navy types (yes, I know they’re not interchangeable) (probably) (give me a break, I’m sick here), plus they’re brothers, plus they’re all being hunted and tormented by the same terrorist organization.

Even so, at first it was okay. The two couples were in distinctly different locations, doing different things. But as the book came to a climax, these people were in increasingly similar situations. The pace picked up and there was a faster back-and-forth between POV scenes. I totally lost track of which was which. And who was who. LivViviLivVivi became an indistinguishable blur. Granted, this might have had something to do with me being wracked by bouts of bone aching chills or lapsing into fits of fever-induced napping. But I finally gave up trying to keep track and just went on faith that Liv and Vivi were each with the right guy and all would end well. Which it did. Well, one of them, Vivi I think, will apparently have her own book, because things with her were sort of left hanging. And that’s fine.

At the end there was an excerpt from another book. YAY! I like this feature. I was sort of thinking it would be Vivi’s story. Or, you know, Liv’s. Depending. Seemed likely. But no, it was about another woman with a perfectly normal name that was not Vivi/Liv. It appeared she was going to go off and match wits with (and fall head over heels for) some Delta/Navy guy named Mace. I stopped and thought, Whoa. Wait. No, that can’t be right. Her readers are SO not going to be happy about this. Because I could have sworn Mace was the one who just ended up with Liv/Vivi (whichever one was not left hanging).

So I scrolled back and looked. And no, the other guy wasn’t named Mace. He was Zane. To my brain (I did mention the fever, right?), these two names are practically twins. Like this:

Mace = [straight line consonant] – a – [short curvy consonant] – e

Zane = [straight line consonant] – a – [short curvy consonant] – e

Now if the new guy had been named “Rafe” it wouldn’t have been a problem, even though it’s still one of those four-letter macho tough guy names with an a and an e. Why? Because an uppercase R is not at all similar to an M or a Z. And f is taller than c or n. It just has a whole different look. Really. Even without a fever.

Please don’t misunderstand. I enjoyed this book. This is the third one I’ve bought and read by this author and I’ll absolutely read more. I hesitate to name her or the books because I don’t know her and am not sure whether she has a sense of humour and I really don’t want her to think I’m picking on her or being mean. That’s not my intent. [If anyone says bad things about this author in the comments I Will Not Be Pleased.]

Besides, I’ve done worse in my own writing. Someone read a very early draft of the beginning of my ms and asked whether two characters were related. I said, “No, why would you think they are?” She said, “Well, they both have the last name of Johnson.” Sigh. Yeah, most writers (myself included) have to do a search-and-delete for excessive adverbs and their ilk. I also have to do one for excessive use of boring Midwestern surnames.

The other book I read (different author) was a flagrant offender, though on a smaller scale. There was a secondary character named “Kevin.” Toward the end of the book, for no apparent reason I could determine (unless it was to set up a sequel, in which case this is a slightly bigger deal), the heroine and her sister are at a restaurant and Kevin walks in with another guy he introduces as his brother. Keith. Nooo!

Kevin = Ke – [something something] – n

Keith = Ke – [something something] – h

They’re practically the same name! Well, in my head anyway. They had a small conversation and I read it twice (with only one feverish nap in between, I promise) and still have no idea who said what. Then one of them mentioned their sister. Kathy. Okay, her name is totally distinct from the other two in my mind (duh, it ends in y) and I’m not likely to confuse hers with theirs, but it’s just a bit too . . . I don’t know. Cute?  Then again, it was an intentionally cute book and it had spells and magic and so maybe it works.

All I’m saying, dear writer friends, is that when you’re considering what to name your characters, give a bit of thought to how those names “look” when side-by-side with other names. And keep in mind that some of your readers might have the flu. Accompanied by a high fever. Perhaps even delirium. Don’t make it harder on us than it needs to be.

So, am I crazy? Too picky about inconsequential details? Do you ever get thrown out of the story by names that are too similar to each other? Do you ever try to sound out bizarre character names and give thanks the writer isn’t your parent or that you didn’t grow up on the planet Zymphantabrios? Or in Middle-earth?

Does this make any sense at all, or do I need to gargle with warm salt water and go back to bed? Never mind, by the time you read this I’ll have done both.

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