New Genre for the New Year

new genre new year maas

I was about to start this blog by talking about how I’ve never been a big fan of fantasy—but then realized I should say more truthfully that I’ve not been reading fantasy recently.

 

new genre new year lang book spines
I went through a period some decades ago when I read fairytales. I sought out the non-Disney versions—for example, Cinderella in which the wicked stepsisters cut off their toes or heels in order to try to fit into the glass slipper. Do fairytales count? YES! If you google “fantasy” (besides fantasy football) you’ll get links to science fiction, speculative fiction, fairytales, anime, science fantasy, legend, and horror, animation, myth, manga, cartoon, etc.
new genre new year alices adventures wonderland through looking glass
Fantasy is a genre of fiction set in a fictional universe, often—but not always—without any locations, events, or people referencing the real world. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then developed into literature and drama. There was a time when my husband and I read aloud to each other from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass, sometimes laughing so hard we could hardly read.

 

new genre new year ursula le gun
And Ursula Le Guin counts! She was a favorite during my science fiction phase.

 

new genre new year harry potter
More recently, I really didn’t appreciate Harry Potter, though recommended by my daughter and granddaughters. (I know: shocking!) However, during a recent visit, these same granddaughters (now 13 and 10) gave me new recommendations.

 

new genre new year wings books
The younger one has read all ten volumes of  Wings of Fire. This is her favorite series. Dragons are big time. But she also recommends Monstress by Marjorie Liu (author) and Sana Takeda (illustrator).
 
new genre new year monstress
This is like a hardbound comic book, so quite a fast read. Is this different from a graphic novel? (Kindle references comiXology. Who knew?)

 

new genre new year
The books in this series are set in 1900s Asia and tells the story of a teenage girl who struggles to survive the trauma of war. She shares a mysterious psychic link with an enormously powerful monster. Both the girl and the monster are transformed by this connection.
new genre new year sara maas throne glass
The 13-year-old’s absolute favorite author is Sarah J. Maas. Maas is a NYT best-selling author of the Thrown of Glass series. In this series, a beautiful young assassin is the protagonist. She’s a bit like a female James Bond in terms of abilities that border on superpowers. She has a tragic past that garners sympathy, beauty and honor that make her appealing, a temper and murders to make her flawed. Maas uses great visual imagery. And the stories involve mysteries of the dark powers and lost magic. Throw in an arch enemy and two love interests, and what’s not to like?

 

new genre new year maas
mass new genre new year
She currently has 3 books in a second series and at least the beginning of a third series. Catwoman: Soulstealer (DC icon series) is due out in August of this year.

 

new genre new year catwoman sarah maas
Bottom line: Revisit some version of fantasy in 2018. Whether classic or modern, dipping into an alternate world broadens one’s thinking.

Top Literary Posts About 2017

top literary posts 2017

It’s the end of the year, which means everyone is posting their “Top ___ of 2017” lists. Among them, of course, are the lists for readers. After seeing these posts left and right, I’ve collected a few to make a masterpost. Enjoy!

And, as an added bonus:

Whatever your “reading about reading” preference, make it a goal to make 2018 a great year for reading!

A Writer’s Gift to Self

[Source: AudioFile]
David Morrell is incredible! His debut novel (1972) was First Blood which would later become the Rambo movies. He has published 44 books, including stand-alone novels (17), the Rambo series (4), Brotherhood of the Rose series (4), Cavanaugh/Protector series (3), Creeper & Scavenger series (2), Thomas DeQuincy series (4), comic books (3), and nonfiction (7). He’s also published short fiction, and edited several volumes.

 

If you go to davidmorrell.net, you can click on any book cover to get a description of the book plus his comments on why he wrote it. The latter are fascinating. For example, he has this to say about The Brotherhood of the Rose:

 

writers gift self backstory david morrell
Click to enlarge
So, he’s published impressively, but my focus today is about David Morrell the teacher.  He has a Ph.D. in American literature and was a professor at the University of Iowa for sixteen years. (He is a living contradiction to the adage, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t do, teach.”) In 1998, he decided to share his teaching in print. If you click “On Writing” on his website, you can access Five Rules for Writing Thrillers, What’s In A Name?, and Five Further Concepts. In 2002 he published The Successful Novelist, reissued in 2008.

 

writers gift self successful novelist david morrell (2)
A friend handed this book to me and said, “It’s great—and a fast read!” It sat around for a long time before I even opened it. I blush to admit that I’d never heard of David Morrell! (In my defense, I’ll only say that thrillers aren’t my usual escapist reading. And there are a lot of writers out there!) But now I am among the throngs who praise him. This book isn’t just helpful, it’s a good read!

 

Rather than try to describe it or review it further, I refer you to his website section “On Writing,” where you can access a sample chapter. Do it! And then give yourself the gift of David Morrell’s experience and insight.

 

writers gift self successful novelist david morrell

Hanukkah Has Begun!

[Photo Credit: Roy Lindman]
 
This is a holiday season in more than one way. If you are Jewish and don’t know the Christian tradition, I urge you to read about the history of the holiday, from pagan celebrations till today.
If you are not Jewish, it’s more likely that you are aware of the Christian traditions but less so of the Jewish ones. I urge you to learn more.

Stay on the lookout for local events or TV specials that will teach you more about these holiday traditions. Maybe urge your book group to read along those lines! However you celebrate, happy holidays!

Wanted: A Book You Can Put Down

It’s almost a truism that “I couldn’t put it down” is about as high praise as a book can get. And yet, it might not always be the highest recommendation!

 

wanted book can put sinco christy esmahan
Right now, I’m reading Sinco: A Love Story Set in Spain, the second book in the Cantabria American School series. Bueno, the first book in the series, was part of my reading for Spain. I wrote about it after I returned.
 
[Source: Amazon]
But back to Sinco. The characters remain the same as in Bueno, with all their individual concerns, fears, and grudges. Some characters are brought to new prominence, others have faded a bit, but the point is, it is a smooth continuation of the plight of struggling young first-time private school director Harvey Jones.

 

His nemises at the school have nicknamed him Sinco because when Jones is pronounced in the Spanish way, it becomes Sin Cojones. These enemies are becoming ever more vindictive and plotting.

 

The book is funny, full of human foibles, and steeped in Spanish culture. It’s a good read.

 

And I can put it down at any time! Indeed, I’ve done so several times times recently. And this is a good thing! This is a hectic time for me—as for many—so I treasure a book I can pick up for a few minutes or an hour, put aside, and not struggle to get back into the story when I pick it up again.

 

For your holiday reading pleasure, I recommend Sinco, a book you can put down!

Thankful for Books—

—AND THE ABILITY AND TIME TO READ THEM!  Although the book mentioned here are Thanksgiving themed, they are good reads any time.

 

Thankful for books thanksgiving turkey
Murder and mayhem. Janet Evanovich has three Thanksgiving themed mysteries: Thanksgiving, Foul Play, and The Grand Finale. Apparently Evanovich knows the potential of holidays for drama!

 

Also, Thanksgiving Angels: A Mercy Allcutt Mystery by Alice Duncan.

 

For more options, click here!
thankful for books thanksgiving
Otherwise, here are some suggestions from Goodreads readers.
  • Thanksgiving Night by Richard Bausch
  • The Ghost at the Table: A Novel by Susanne Berne
  • The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford
  • A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler
  • Thanksgiving by Michael Dibdin
  • A Thanksgiving Miracle by Wells Earl Draughon
  • The Thanksgiving Virgin by Charles Haas

 

 

thankful for books turkey
 Classics
  • An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving by Louisa May Alcott
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
thankful for books silver turkey
BOTTOM LINE: Be thankful for online searches, for you can find Thanksgiving books for all ages and genres!
 
thankful for books happy thanksgiving

Why Read Aloud?

read aloud kids
Most of us stopped reading aloud when our last child outgrew being a listener. But remember what engaged you and your child. It probably included rhythm, delightful words (think Dr. Seuss), vivid images, and different voices for different characters. These are all good things for adult books and stories.

read aloud yourself
Reading your work aloud is a good way to improve it. Ideally, someone else would read it aloud while you listen and take notes, but such a partner may be hard to come by. Alternatively, read aloud to yourself—actually reading, not mumbling the words. Perhaps even recording yourself reading at least part of it. Reading aloud accomplishes several things.

1. It highlights verbal tics: Repeated words or phrases hit the ear in a way they don’t hit the eye. Providing a character with a verbal tic can be a good thing, but when everyone uses the same word or phrase, it becomes the author’s verbal tic, and that is not good. It’s boring. I wrote about this in an earlier blog. Also, the same speech patterns makes it difficult for the reader to identify the character who is speaking.

2. You hear awkward sentence structures. Too long. Too convoluted. Too many parenthetical insertions. Too long a series with everything separated by commas, etc. Anywhere you stumble reading aloud, your stranger reader is likely to stumble reading the written word.

3. You can identify needed and unneeded attributions. If John and Susan are the only two people talking, you needn’t identify every change of speaker—something you can easily hear.

4. If you read it as it’s written, punctuation flaws jump out. You can hear when you’ve put a period at the end of a question, or a question mark at the end of a declarative sentence. You can hear when a sentence would benefit from a dash—to add more emphasis than a comma.

5. You’re likely to notice when too many of your paragraphs begin with the same structure. The most likely pattern here is to start each paragraph with a character taking an action. John stood…  Mary slammed the book down… Sam laughed… Claris tossed back a shot of bourbon… Such a pattern begs for varied transitions.

BONUS: Reading your work aloud is good practice for when you win a major award and are asked to do public readings all over the country!
 
read aloud author speakers

My Reading While Traveling

I’ll start by confessing that I did less of it than I planned! Between walking miles every day (literally), consuming enough wine, cheese, and desserts to pack on five pounds, and napping on the bus between cities, the time just flew by. On the other hand, I did promise a report, so here it is.

Alentejo Blue

reading way portugal monica ali alentejo blue
This book set in Portugal just got better and better. Each chapter is a story, and each story switches to a different POV character while the other characters fade into secondary or supporting roles. In the course of the book, each character gets richer and richer. It’s a fascinating look at a town as a whole, experienced by its citizens. Often the stories/lives seem to be downers, but in the end, it’s more upbeat than I expected! And as I said when I started it, the writing is excellent throughout. I recommend it as a story read, but also as an example of how to put together a novel in an atypical structure.

Sedella: The Story of a Spanish Village

[Source: Amazon]
Sedella, on the other hand, just didn’t grab me. The description drew me in, tracing a Spanish town from pre-history to the present, with a mixture of historical/anthropological information and a fictional story line. In this instance, the structure didn’t work for me, going back and forth between the fact and the fiction. I soon found myself skimming the facts and skipping to the story line. In the end, I put it aside altogether in favor of the second novel set in Spain.

Bueno: A Love Story Set in Spain

[Source: Amazon]
Bueno: A Love Story set in Spain by Christy Esmahan is delightful. The “hero” is Harvey Jones, an American and novice headmaster of a private school in Spain, the Cantabria American School. Although there’s no hint of a love interest in the first half of the book, it drew me in immediately. Harvey is full of good intentions but he’s on his own in a strange place where he knows nothing of the politics among the teachers, the Board members, the parents, and his mentor. The priorities of the president of the Board, largely responsible for hiring him, are not shared by the teachers and parents.

Harvey has come to Spain in part to be closer to his brother, recently deceased, who was killed in a terrorist attack while living there. He’s taking classes in Spanish to improve the Texas version he arrived with. His nemeses take advantage of that and start calling him “Cinco” because when the J in Jones is silent, as it is in Spanish, it becomes the verbal slur “sin cojones.”

This is Book 1 in the Cantabria American School series and I fully intend to find Book 2! But when shall I get back to Don Quixote and Tales From the Alhambra? I acquired them abroad and haven’t really started either!

Two Novels Set in Spain

By the time you read this, I will be in Spain—and maybe I will have read these books by now. But I bought them for the trip and I’m writing this before departure, so I’ll tell you why they’re with me (on Kindle).

 

sedella story spanish village
[Source: Amazon]
Sedella: The Story of a Spanish Village by John Hardy is (according to its Amazon blurb) “a romantic historical novel about an Andalucian village, from prehistoric times to the present day… Each of the historical chapters is in two parts. The first part is a fairly factual account of the relevant time, though some of these facts may be slightly altered in time, etc., to fit the story. The second part of the chapter is a story set around these historical events.” Two things drew me in: historical novel and romance. It should be light reading plus a little education.
bueno christy esmahan
[Source: Amazon]
Bueno: A Love Story Set in Spain by Christy Esmahan made the cut because (1) it has a 4.5 out of 5-star rating; (2) it has food scenes; (3) the protagonist is a teacher; and (4) it’s a romance—which promises, light reading and a happy ending.

 

I’ll let you know how they turn out!

Reading My Way to Portugal!

By the time you read this blog, I will have arrived in Portugal. Needless to say, I read ahead.

 

reading way portugal monica ali alentejo blue
This is a book of short stories set in the Alentejo province of Portugal. I started it at home and, if I didn’t do so on the plane, will finish it on site.  Monica Ali is an award-winning author whose work has been translated into thirty languages. I like what I’ve read so far, and am sure the remainder of the book will be equally gripping.

 

Each chapter features richly drawn, complex characters. Some of the families have lived in the village for generations, some are ex-pats, and some are just passing through. Their stories weave together making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

 

All the ex-pats and tourists are disenchanted with their lives, and moving to another place doesn’t help them. Meanwhile, the local Portuguese have very little, and many yearn to be someplace else—e.g., Cape Cod or London—but live their lives as best they can day to day.

 

The great hope is that Marco Alfonso Rodrigues will come back home and bring prosperity to the district. He is rumored to be “a very big name in the tourist industry… Luxury resorts in Thailand and Singapore. So I have been told.” (p. 45)

 

In fact, when he does return, villagers, tourists, and ex-pats come together, their jealousies and disappointments colliding. It is not a happy book (although there are touches of humor). Why read it? Because the writing is excellent!

 

my portugal george mendes
My other do-ahead reading was cookbooks. Eating is one of my favorite travel activities! I enjoy eating fish that have no comparables in the U.S. I relish identifying traditional seasoning patterns for various countries. Sometimes I even eat ahead, so to speak.

 

reading way portugal tomato tuna salad
This tuna, tomato, and onion salad from My Portugal was great—though my creation didn’t look quite so picture-worthy! I am looking forward to Portuguese port and other wines, and to learning to love salt cod!

 

learning love salt cod
One thing I especially look forward to is tasting the differences between Portuguese and Spanish cooking.

williams sonoma savoring spain portugal joyce goldstein

Watch my Facebook page for photos!