Category Archives: on reading

S. J. Gazan – The Arc of the Swallow

I like reading authors from other countries. It gives me a glimpse into unfamiliar cultures and settings. Of course, some of them are good and some are not, like writers anywhere. Gazan, from Denmark, is one of the good ones. His style is different than what I’m used to, whether that is because he is Danish, or just his personal style. His pace is slower and he covers more detail than many of the US authors I’ve read recently.

Gazan weaves a story with multiple points of view and multiple timelines, jumping back and forth in time to cover a different POV of the same event. Marie Skow, PhD candidate in biology, is faced with two apparent suicides: her mother and her professor and mentor, Kristian Storm. Police detective Soren Marhaunge is not only connected to Skow because of the suicides, but finds that they were neighbors as children. There are other POVs, woven through past and present, family, friends, and colleagues. Gazan even feeds us part of the story through deceased Dr. Storm.

It is an interesting and complex mystery and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Short Stories

I don’t usually pick up books of short stories to read. I’m not sure why since I enjoy them. Of course, they come in a variety of flavors.
I’m reading a book of short stories at the moment, Trouble in Mind by Jeffrey Deaver. Some of them are long enough to be novellas. Some feature characters from his mystery/crime novels and some don’t. They are all good reading and each one has a twist in the plot. The first book of short stories I remember reading and enjoying (many, many years ago) was by O. Henry – always a twist at the end.

I’ve read a few other books of short stories recently, mostly books I’m working on, editing and/or formatting for authors to self-publish. Each book is different from the other and all are enjoyable. Seven Days: One Story a Day from the Philippines by Terence Flannery is a combination of truth and fiction from a good storyteller. Some are delightfully funny, others sad. The book is available on Amazon Kindle.

I’m still working on Tom Nelson’s fifth book of stories in his series, Fennimore…as I Remember. His books are collections of articles he has published in the Fennimore Times newspaper about memories of his small hometown. It takes you back to your own small town or even your neighborhood in a city. The latest volume is “coming soon.”
Also in the works is a memoir from Marsha Perlman, which in reality is a group of short stories about events in her life. She has led a very interesting life. The book should be available this summer.

There are other books of short stories that I’ve reviewed previously on this blog. Check them out Post to Post Links II error: No term found with slug "short-stories".

Quotation Marks (or lack thereof)

I guess it’s supposed to be fashionable to write without quotation marks. But to me it usually marks an author who is trying to be “literary.” I know that I have read and enjoyed some books in the past sans quotation marks, but they were good stories.

Last night I gave up on a book written by an author who according to his credentials has a degree in English and creative writing. The lack of quotation marks drove me crazy. He added way too many “he said” and “she said” (the quotation marks are mine) to guide the reader. This made the writing choppy. A talented writer can add he said and she said without the reader even noticing. This was not the case with this book. Sometimes each quote was a separate line and sometimes he bunched them together in one long paragraph. So there wasn’t even consistency in his style. I might have continued reading if the story didn’t feel jaded and cynical. I wasn’t in the mood for that type of novel. It was supposed to be humorous, but I guess it wasn’t my kind of humor.

This morning I decided to look up the lack of quotation marks in certain novels and found a lot of people who agree with me. There’s a post in Jenny and Kelly Read Books blog that I liked called, “No More Books Without Quotation Marks…EVER! /mommie dearest.” I found an article by Lionel Shriver in the Wall Street Journal of all places called “Missing the Mark.”

The article I found most interesting goes into the history of quotation marks. A post by Richard Lea is in The Gaurdian’s Book Blog, “Don’t be scared: dialogue without quotation marks.”

In case you’re wondering, the book I didn’t finish was The Bend of the World by Jacob Bacharach. I can’t give you a review because I didn’t finish it. Who knows? It might be a great book.

More about writing reviews…

I am in the process of publishing reviews on this blog that I’ve previously posted on Amazon. I’m linking them to this post.

Post to Post Links II error: No term found with slug "florida-authors"are authors I know from our large group of writers at Gulf Coast Writers Association and/or Fort Myers Writers Meetup or I have met them at book signings. I’ve read these books and liked them. (I’ve purchased other books at these book signings that I wasn’t so crazy about and haven’t reviewed them.)

I’ll add more to this post later.

About Writing Reviews, where do they go?

For those of you who don’t know me, I belong to the Gulf Coast Writers Association in Southwest Florida (I’m their webmaster). It’s a large group of around two hundred writers. I like to buy members books from time to time and if I like the book, I write a review on Amazon. As a writer, I know that good reviews help your sales. I always appreciate a review for my book. More is better.

But…where do they go?

I write a review and see it on Amazon. They even send me an email telling me it posted. A week or a month later, when I go back to check on my review, it has disappeared. The same thing happens to reviews people write for my book. Currently I have one review on Amazon. I asked this question, “Where do they go?” and was told that they need to be able to verify purchase. I can almost understand on the books that I buy from the authors at a book signing or a writer’s meeting. Yet even the reviews I’ve added for books I’ve purchased from Amazon have disappeared.

So…where do they go?

I don’t know how to solve this problem. I’m going to start adding my reviews of these books to other websites, like goodreads, indie bound, aNobii, and LibraryThing. There may be more. The other places I found to leave reviews online seem to be either bookseller sites or sites that have been bought out by publishers/booksellers. So you may have the same problems there that you have with Amazon.

Meanwhile, I’m going to start adding those reviews here on my blog and on one or more of the other places I mentioned. We’ll see how it goes.

Settings and Cultures

I love a story with a good setting. One that pulls you in and makes you feel as if you are there. The three books I’ve read this week are in very diverse places, but all made me feel I was in the worlds the authors were describing.

Tamarack County by William Kent Krueger is set in Northern Minnesota in the winter. Even though I’m here in warm, sunny Florida I felt the cold and the snow. I was shivering in my warm bed while reading. Krueger also surrounds you with a local culture – a mixture of small town and the “Rez” as he calls it. Native American culture weaves in and out of the story.

The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home is set on the coast of Scotland. I could smell the salt air and feel the loneliness of a deserted village on a coastal island where fishing had failed and the families had relocated to the mainland.

Both of these books were good mysteries with complex plots and interesting characters. But what sticks with me is the setting and culture of each book.

The third book is entirely different – A True Novel (II) by Minae Mizumura. I picked this up by accident at the library, not realizing it was the second part of the story. (I’ll go back and find the first book.) The story is about a Japanese man who moves to New York and makes his fortune. Apparently the first book is set in New York, but the second book is all in Japan. I could picture it, feel it, (even though I’ve never been there) and sense the changes in the culture as time passes. This is not the type of novel I usually read. I think the setting is what kept me reading even more than the sad story.

Going back to some other books I’ve recently read and enjoyed, I believe setting is part of the attraction. Deborah Crombie’s The Sound of Broken Glass is apparently a book in a series. I haven’t read the previous books but had no problem jumping in at number fifteen. The setting is in South London’s Crystal Palace, a neighborhood of musicians, a village within the city. The Crystal Palace was a huge glass structure built for the Great Exhibition of London in 1851 in Hyde Park and rebuilt in an even larger version in an upscale neighborhood in South London in 1854. It burned to the ground in 1936, but the neighborhood still goes by that name. I was drawn into the neighborhood and the musical culture.

Lost by S. J. Bolton is more character driven, but the setting in the back streets of London captured me.

Colin Cotterill’s The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die is the latest of his stories set in Laos in the 1970’s. He brings you into this strange place on the other side of the world and he does it with humor.


Suspend your disbelief for the funniest of novels. I’ve seen reviews of these books that say these things could never happen. But some of them actually do happen. And to me that’s part of the humor. The authors can take a common event and turn it into an outrageous adventure. Even though many of these books base their stories on real events, the authors take you to a place where you can enjoy the humor of the situation. When I need a good laugh and a break from bleak reality, humorous books are the best prescription.

If you’ve read any of Tim Dorsey’s novels, you know that he writes sick, raucous humor. His protagonist, Serge Storms, is an insane killer who thinks up the weirdest ways to do away with anyone he thinks doesn’t deserve to live. He even killed a guy for littering in one of his books. Serge’s sidekick, Coleman, is always under the influence – alcohol and all kinds of drugs. Serge doesn’t indulge except occasionally when he decides to take his medication for his psychosis.

They drive around Florida, never staying long in one place. Something I find very interesting about these books is that they are loaded with Florida history. Serge loves Florida. He stops at any and every historical marker and museum. He finds places where no one else would bother. He loves the wildlife, the swamps, the amusement parks, the old buildings. He describes them all and the history behind them. And he does this without boring you. Lots of insane humor. If you check out any of the places they visit, well known or obscure, you will find they are real. Dorsey has to be a real Florida history buff.

Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite authors. He’s another one who writes his stories in Florida. He throws together groups of wild characters and weird events that could happen (and sometimes do happen) in Florida. He mocks Florida politics, land development, and environmental policies. One character who makes an appearance from time-to-time is an ex-governor eco-terrorist. Other characters show up in more than one book, but mostly we are meeting new and outlandish people in each novel.

Sadly, Elmore Leonard is no longer with us. He wrote in many diverse styles, including mystery, detective, westerns…even nonfiction. He also wrote some great crime humor, many set in Florida. He will be missed.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels made me fall out of my chair laughing when I started reading them. But after 19 or 20 books, Stephanie is getting a little old these days. (I don’t mean old in years because she never ages.) She doesn’t change or grow or make up her mind about her life and her two boyfriends. Some of the other characters in the Plum novels have changed and grown and are more interesting. I prefer reading some of Evanovich’s other novels, based on other characters, now that I’ve grown a bit tired of Stephanie. These books are set in New Jersey. You probably thought I thought all humor sprang from Florida.

The Three H’s

Usually when people refer to the three H’s they mean “Hands, Head, and Heart.”

 “He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi

For me the three H’s are head, heart, and humor. In my opinion, the best books, movies, fictional characters, and people in real life have all three. Writing the three H’s is all about knowing your characters. Some of my favorite authors skip the humor (it’s hard to write), but there is usually a scattering of humor in the most serious novels. They need head, heart, plus lots of good character, story, plot, and background detail to keep me interested without humor.

When I think about using your head, it includes logic, creativity, curiosity, planning, digging into your memory, feeding the desire to learn, and on and on and on… Some people are better at some aspects than others, but they all keep life interesting. If you keep your mind active, at least you won’t get bored.

Heart means reaching outside ourselves to others. We need interests in people, animals, the environment, or something that lessens our own problems. We need to pay attention to what’s happening to others. Nothing makes you feel better than working to improve a situation or a life. If we are too self-involved, too busy worrying about our own problems, we don’t have time to see what we can do for the people and world around us.

Humor to me is simple. If you can’t laugh at yourself, the world will get you down. You don’t need to be joking and laughing all the time, just be able to see the humor in everyday life. People said my mother didn’t have a sense of humor, but I thought she had a superior one. She may not have “gotten the joke” or understood what was funny about a silly movie or a TV sitcom, but she had a subtle sense of humor. She could laugh at life and she could induce that ‘roll on the floor out of control’ laughter in her children.

I googled the three H’s and found others. One site talked about creating music and listed honesty, humanity, and hooks. I guess that could apply to writing, too. There are other important ones, health, hope, and happiness. We can work at having good health, but we don’t always have a choice when it leaves us. I’ve known people with serious health problems who are still lively, interested, involved, connected to others, and living fuller lives than some who are perfectly healthy. Hope and happiness are positive attitudes that should follow if we use head, heart, and humor appropriately.

Left Brain/Right Brain

I have a friend who decided to change careers in her forties from computers to teaching children and went back to school to accomplish this goal. She has been teaching fourth and fifth grade and from what I read and hear, she is an awesome teacher. She has completed her Bachelor’s degree and her Masters and is working on a Specialist degree. Along the way, I have edited all of her papers. (I should be earning some sort of degree by osmosis.)

Her latest paper is about brain-based learning. Different people learn in different ways according to their learning preferences. We learn best when all our senses are engaged. If a teacher only stands in front of a classroom and lectures, most of her students won’t get it. If you add visual, movement, music, poetry, games, etc., you will engage more of the brain and more of the students.

This paper talks about right brain/left brain leanings, so of course I went off track and took one of those tests. The test said I was moderately right brained. Apparently, reading and writing are left brain activities, so it doesn’t really fit. On the other hand (or side of the brain) the right brain is supposed be creative. But who’s to say we fit into slots and how accurate are such tests.

Wouldn’t you think that reading and writing come from the same part of the brain? Apparently they don’t. I know a woman who had a stroke, which took away her ability to read. Strangely enough, she could still write and type with no trouble. With time, she is regaining her reading ability, but she had to go back to reading “Dick and Jane” type books to get started. I haven’t asked her, but I wonder if she could read what she wrote.

The paper I was editing for my schoolteacher friend also said we need to engage both sides of the brain to retain what we learn. So, here’s to using your head, your whole head.

On Reading and Writing…

I love a good story. I love to read – I love to write. This blog is about what I like to read and why. Sometimes I’ll write a review of a particular book, but most often I’ll talk about a group of books and what it is that makes them work for me. I’ll also post about writing.

There are many good authors out there. A short list of some of my favorites, without getting into details are: Dennis Lehane (dark), Tim Dorsey (outrageously funny), Ed McBain, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin, and Shakespeare. I threw Shakespeare in to get your attention. He writes good characters and humor. Then there are the SF writers – Isaac Asimov, Connie Willis, Orson Scott Card, Frank Herbert, Ursala Le Guin, David Brin, Arthur C. Clark, Larry Niven (my favorite) and many more.

I’m always looking for new authors. I go the library every couple of weeks and pick up six to eight books. Most of them are by first-time authors or authors I’ve never read. There is nothing like a good story with interesting characters to keep you entertained.