Tag: Reading

My 5 Best Reads of the Year

I read a lot. My goal each year is to read 100 books, and I usually read more. Books, and writing, are two things I can happily talk about all day long. For the last few years, I’ve done a post here about my top five reads that year. I have fairly wide ranging tastes, so there’s a decent variety in these selections.

1. Lock-In by John Scalzi– This was a really amazingly detailed book. A disease sweeps the world, and leaves people “locked in” to their bodies. A new technology emerges to give these victims something like a normal life. There are political, philosophical, and various social ramifications that are part of the background. The major plot is a murder mystery with a twist. I was really impressed with the storytelling and world building.

2. Mars Up Close by Marc Kaufman– I’m a little bit of a science geek (in addition to many other kinds of geek). I’ve always been fascinated by the space program. This book has gorgeous pictures sent back from Mars, as well as a history of the various probes we have sent there, what they have found, and what the discoveries mean. This is worth going through for the pictures alone.

3. World War Z by Max Brooks- For those who have seen the movie, this was much better and more detailed. It’s the story of a zombie plague that caused serious issues all over the planet (hmm, two plague books this year). Aside from people having to believe that suddenly there were zombies roaming around, there were all manner of complications all over the world. The history of the plague, its outbreak, and then recovery, are detailed in various first person interviews with survivors and witnesses of what happened. I thought it was really well done.

4. Shadow Man by Cody McFadyen– This one is really not for the faint of heart. Special Agent Smoky Barrett of the FBI is one of their best serial killer hunters. As the book starts, she’s recovering from a great tragedy. Her team is getting by without her, but they need her back, especially when a new threat emerges who seems to be highly interested in Barrett coming out of retirement. It’s a dark story with some really grim scenes, but I thought it was very well written and plotted.

5. The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay– I’ve seen a lot of different settings for fantasy books. I don’t recall seeing Moorish Spain used as the background before. This book had some great characters, and did a great job depicting the strife, frustration, and foolishness from the clash of religions. I think this was a great story with unexpected twists and turns along the way. For a “fantasy” book, there was no magic or otherworldly elements, barring one character having visions. It was great, though.

Honorable Mention:

Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan. This begins a fantasy series that has a lot of stereotypes but rises above them to be a really entertaining read. A warrior and a thief travel together as mercenaries, commanding elite prices for difficult jobs. Some of it was easy to see coming, but how they got there was enjoyable, and I really had a good time with this book.

My Worst Read of the Year:

The Washingtonienne by Jessica Cutler. Sometimes it’s hard to pick one for this. I don’t always read a book over the year that I consider bad, so sometimes I just need to pick one that was what I enjoyed least. That wasn’t the case this year. I can’t remember how this book got onto my list; it might have been a review I read somewhere. The main character, who is the narrator, is shallow, self-centered, and flat-out annoying. I rarely say this, but this not a book I recommend at all.

How Do I Find New #Books (And New #Authors) To #Read?

Okay, I just read a great article about romance books – who is reading them, what kinds of romance books, and (here’s the important part dear readers) how readers find new books (and new authors) they want to read.

The key point was that, at least for this audience (though I think it may be equally true to other genres), the leading reason why people pick up a new author is because they heard about it from someone else. A recommendation, a review, word-of-mouth; it all matters. Here is the breakdown of how people discover new books.
Nielson Romance Report
Makes you really recognize the power behind those Amazon reviews and how they influence the purchases of readers. I have to admit, they usually help me decide between book. (Not to mention Amazon’s “other people who bought this book also bought…” notes at the bottom).

So, if you have a writer in your life, or a writer you love, show them how much you do by posting a quick review up at Amazon. It may ensure they can keep on writing.

Why a Nook Instead of a Kindle?

Sometimes it’s hard being a Nook owner.  I see an eBook I really want and sometimes I have to pass on it because the writer only published it through Amazon.  A list of free books comes out through SF Signal every day, and I’m amazed at how many are only available on Amazon.

Yet, it’s better than my first eReader, the Sony one, because they had to create a bookstore for the eReader.  I got that one at the time because the Kindle was way too high-priced.  I was having a hard time understanding how we can build color cell phones for $100 and an eReader in black and white cost $500.

The reason I got the Nook though is because of Waldenbooks, B. Dalton, and Borders.  The first two are bookstores I visited regularly almost my entire life.  B. Dalton was eventually bought out by Barnes and Noble, and Waldenbooks by Borders.  So they disappeared from the malls.

I liked Borders better than Barnes and Noble.  I liked the way they arranged their books, which might sound strange.  Borders put their thrillers and mysteries together and labeled it such.  With Barnes and Noble, it’s a guess as to where a thriller will land — might be in mystery, might be in general fiction.  Being able to find books is important!

But Borders went bankrupt.  Not because of a declining book industry but because of business decisions, and I still miss them.  That just leaves Barnes and Noble, and any local bookstores.  I don’t want Amazon to be my only choice for books.

I’ve seen what happens when there is only one choice.  Just look at cable TV.  I’m forced to pay a premium for basic cable and get a zillion channels I don’t watch.  The cable company’s response?  It’s too expensive to do smaller packages.  Yeah, they’d loose money.  Competition always helps keep everyone honest.

Besides, there’s something really special about wandering around a bookstore and spotting this new book that looks fantastic.  That’s hard to do on a website.

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Video Saturday: @MaryRobinette on Tips for Reading Fiction Out Loud (Part 2)

I know all of you have been breathlessly waiting for Part 2 to post today –  Mary Robinette Kowal talking about tips for reading fiction aloud.  This part is much more in depth with some vocal exercises/tips that reminded me very much of my old vocal music lessons on voice placement.  It may seem like a lot of work for a reading, but considering the potential impact, and the importance…you should watch this video.

For those of you who may not be familiar, Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of Shades of Milk and Honey (Tor 2010). In 2008 she won the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and in 2011, her short story “For Want of a Nail” won the Hugo Award for Short Story. She is a professional puppeteer and voice actor, and has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures and founded Other Hand Productions. She also records fiction for authors such as Kage Baker, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi.

The section on “attitude” is PRICELESS.

Special thanks to S. James Nelson for posting the videos to YouTube

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Video Saturday: Tips for Reading Fiction from Mary Robinette Kowal

At Balticon this year I had my first reading.  Yay!  At Balticon this year I had my first reading.  Eeeep! <insert other sounds of fear>  I’ve bought books based on people’s reading.  I know how they can excite readers, and motivate potential readers.  It is an opportunity to put yourself and your work forward.  Which basically in my head translated to:  “Don’t muck this up.”

In the end, I did all right.  Not perfect, but good enough that afterwards I did not collapse, run for cover, or swear I’d never read again.  In fact, a couple of people liked my reading so much, they asked where to find the story I’d read.  <insert appropriate squee noises here>

However, for today’s Video Saturday I found something that would have definitely helped.  Hugo-award winning novelist and professional puppeteer, Mary Robinette Kowal, has a couple of fantastic and simple YouTube videos where she provides tips for reading fiction out loud.  And as she says in the video, she used to do competitive reading. (I never even knew it was a sport!)  🙂

This is a two-part video but because there is SO MUCH COOLNESS, I didn’t want to put them both out this week. Of course, for you smarties out there, here’s a link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3GT9NbaogoE

What makes you put down a book?

I was thinking about that after reading Judy Hedlund’s post Top 7 Reasons I Stop Reading a Novel.   A lot of times you get writers together about what makes you put a book down, and it’s like going back to grade school.

They have their red pens out, ready to identify an adverb use or what they view as a POV shift, and then they point gleefully and say:

“You got it wrong!”

By intent, I don’t notice that kind of stuff.  I’m more forgiving as a reader in some respects, and in others, far less forgiving.  I have three reasons that I will automatically put down a book, and likely never read the author again.

Skull sitting on a red cloth, set against a black background

Too often, it seems people put violence in to be trendy, rather than for good story reasons. Photo from Clipart.com.

1. Gratuitous violence

In some respects, it’s become trendy to show a lot of violence.  In addition to fantasy, I read thrillers, and it’s very common in thrillers to see a character get a finger cut off or an eyeball gouged out.  One horrifying book described a woman’s guts being pulled out while she was still alive.


No.  So no.

Black cat sitting on a red cloth background

Obligatory cat photo. From Clipart.com

2. Too much profanity

I know this one gets a lot of heated debate on writing boards, with writers professing, “It’s my right to use profanity” as if it was something owed to them. Yet, I’ve read stories that launched four f-bombs in the first two pages, some within a paragraph of each other.  It’s not a good sign because it’s telling me this book has a taste level I, as a reader, am not going to like.


Chinese woman in a red dress

It was hard finding a photo of a woman in a red dress that wasn’t objectifying her. From Clipart.com

3. Too stupid to live characters

Sadly, this is most often the women characters.  I honestly can’t think of an instance where a male character was TSTL.  Yet, I’ve seen women characters who seem blind to the dangers around them and put themselves into danger in very stupid ways.  It makes me wonder if the writer thinks that’s how all women are, and makes me want to avoid them in the future.

What things make you put down a book?


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