Tag Archives: reading

Why I Read (and Write) Fiction

Entertainment: What other medium can pull you into its world like a good book? You can visit places you’ve been or places you’ve never seen, real or imagined. You can identify with characters and experience what they are experiencing, feel what they are feeling. You can join in an adventure, fall in love, laugh, cry, try to solve a mystery, feel  fear, and maybe learn something new.

Education: Even though fiction authors are free to make up a story, the best ones research what they are writing about and venture into real subjects. I often find myself doing my own research after reading a book that talks about a subject that interests me, digging in to learn more or to check to see how much is fact. A good example is the John Grisham novel, The Rooster Bar, which I’m currently reading. It talks about bank fraud, college loans, law school scams, immigrant problems, suicide…and I’m only halfway through.

Imagination: The best books stimulate my imagination, stir my creative juices, piqué my curiosity. None of this is so readily available in a movie or even a game, which paint the pictures for you and don’t allow your brain to create its own images. Hard science fiction is the best genre for my mind. It takes current science and technology and stretches them to future possibilities. In many cases, it takes us to other worlds. Exciting, interesting, and educational.

Solving puzzles: Mysteries and thrillers are all about solving puzzles. Can you figure out “Who dun it?” before the book tells you? Can you find a way for the protagonist to escape in a good thriller?

I try to incorporate some or all the above in my writing. I wrote my first novel, The Janus Code, as science fiction, but by the time I published it, the real world had caught up. I hope it included all the reasons for reading. The second book I published, Mangrove Madness, is a mystery—entertainment and a puzzle to solve.

Go grab a good novel and enjoy the mind trip!

Science Fiction

I know people who like reading fiction but say they don’t like science fiction (SF). But how can you write off a huge genre that contains everything from literary to trash? There are so many subgenres in SF as there are outside SF—genres and subgenres combined.

I just finished another SF novel that kept me up until 4 AM to finish it—The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker. I started to write another post about science fiction and realized I had already done that, so I am reposting it.

Science Fiction posted Jul 29, 2014.
I love SF books. At least some of them. They cover so much ground. The range from great to boring. But isn’t that true of all novels? There are many genres within SF: Adventure, Space, Hard SF, Soft SF, Paranormal, Cyberpunk, Alternate History, and many more. Some cross over genres into romance, mystery, fantasy, or mainstream fiction. Now they are sometimes calling it speculative fiction, which appears to covers more genres than even science fiction.

I first wrote my novel, The Janus Code, as science fiction or speculative fiction in 1995. When the world caught up with my imagination, I edited it to bring it up-to-date and published it as a suspense thriller.

Getting back to why I started this post, I stayed up ‘til 4AM a couple of nights ago reading a SF book – The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. This is soft or social SF. I found the book fascinating for several reasons. One is the fact that it is a collaboration between three authors. Something that caught my attention was that the story was originally written as an iPhone app. Another reason is that they wrote in first person, but each chapter is from a different character’s point of view. You don’t see many books written multiple first person.

An interesting point is that these characters may show up in only one or two chapters or they may continue to appear throughout the book. This made the story a bit difficult to follow when I started reading. I kept thinking, “Did I see this person before?” But that didn’t last when I got into the story.

The plot: Children are born without language capability. It turns out to be a virus and more and more children are born with this condition.

I could get into the story and the characters’ reactions. I could tell you how it relates to the way people today respond to anyone who is “different.” I could tell you how the story progresses. Instead, I’ll let you read this very absorbing story.

I’ve started another SF novel – Mars, inc.: The Billionaire’s Club by Ben Bova, one of SF’s most accomplished and prolific writers. This is hard science fiction or maybe even mainstream fiction. The science is real; it could happen today. One man convinces a group of billionaires to finance a crewed mission to Mars. I can’t give you much more on this one because I’ve just begun reading.

For those of you who don’t read SF, give it a try. There are many variations and lots of good writing.

One book spoils the others…

Did you ever read a book that was so good, so absorbing, so well written, that you couldn’t get connected with the next book? After finishing New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson, I breezed through the first chapters of four different books before I found one that held my interest. Maybe part of the problem was New York 2140 was so long and dense with ideas that it took many days to read, and I found myself still caught up in the story after finishing the book. It even invaded my dreams.

The good part of this phenomenon—I wasn’t staying awake reading until 1 or 2 am while I couldn’t find a book to hold my attention.

J. D. Robb — Apprentice in Death

This review is more about the author (J. D. Robb, aka Nora Roberts) and her writing style than the story. First, let me say I am in awe of a woman who can publish over 200 novels in 36 years. That’s an average of almost six a year. And she writes well!

I haven’t read a book from the “in Death” series for many years. Long enough that I wasn’t at all familiar with the series protagonist, Lieutenant Eve Dallas. I imagine she’s changed over the years. In this story, she is a driven, very smart cop. She was in control of the investigation from beginning to end. She kept everyone moving in the right direction. She is also in a loving relationship with her husband, Roarke. He is rich, brilliant, and of course handsome. He treats her unbelievably well, and he even helps with the case with his money, ideas, and inventions. But Robb pulls this off without making it feel “over the top.”

This is a crime novel or a police procedural, and you know who the villains are very early.  But tracking them and preventing more killings keep the pace hard and fast. The author doesn’t let you pause for breath except for a few short breaks with Dallas and Roarke at home.

Two things about the writing were strange to me. First is the point of view. Robb uses omniscient POV. She knows what everyone is thinking…more or less. At times she seems to be using third person for long passages, especially with Dallas. Other times she switches back and forth rapidly between characters. This would normally drive me crazy. But Robb does it almost seamlessly.

The second strange idea in the novel is the time frame, 2061. True there are some tools, weapons, etc. that don’t exist today. But the story could be written in today’s world losing nothing. If I were to pick a time without knowing the date, I would guess ten years from now. Many of the special tools are available now or will be in a few years. Transportation was strange. Even in 2061, they weren’t using self-driving vehicles. The one thing we probably won’t have soon is off-planet prisons.

I enjoyed Apprentice in Death. It kept my attention, I liked all the characters, and the setting brought me back to New York City. Mainly, it was a good story. I’ll probably go back and read some of the previous books in the series.

Cory Doctorow and Charles Stress — The Rapture of the Nerds

Full Title:  The Rapture of the Nerds 
A tale of singularity, posthumanity, and awkward social situations.

I read somewhere that speculative fiction that predicts the future is truly about the era in which it is written. I believe this was in reference to one of the classic dystopian novels, Brave New World or 1984. The Rapture of the Nerds is written in our far-flung future but definitely reflects our current world.

The novel is set in a future Earth where most of the population has chosen to leave and become part of “the cloud,” which occupies the inner solar system. The protagonist, Huw, is quite happy in his simple home and garden in Wales where he spends his time throwing pottery. His parents gave up their earthly bodies and left for the posthuman cloud fifty years ago.

Huw volunteers for jury duty to judge whether or not to accept the latest technology tossed back to Earth from the cloud. This leads him to being chosen as witness for those still living on our planet when a decision is eminent as to whether to preserve Earth or use its resources and move everyone into the cloud.

The book is ridiculously funny, full of pokes and prods at today’s world. If I read it ten times I would probably catch something new each time.

I have read other novels by Doctorow but none by Stress. Together they wrote a rollicking good story.

Rebecca Dinerstein — The Sunlit Night

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This is another “literary” novel that I enjoyed. I need to stop prejudging books by their genre. I don’t believe you should judge a person by what group they belong to, what they look like, or where they come from. So why should I choose book by genre? Each group has authors I enjoy and those that I don’t.

The Sunlit Night is a delightful tale about two young people who end up in northern Norway, above the Arctic Circle in the land of the midnight sun. Frances is a twenty-two-year-old artist from New York City who has accepted an apprenticeship for the summer to Nils who paints only in yellow at an artist colony and museum in the north of Norway. Yasha, seventeen and just out of high school. is a Russian boy living over his father Vassily’s bakery on Brighton Beach. Vassily plans a trip to Moscow to look for Yasha’s mother who stayed behind ten years earlier when father and son moved to the United States. Vassily dies of a heart attack in Moscow and his last wish is to be buried at the top of the world. The artist colony and museum in northern Norway is the closest to his father’s wish that Yasha can find.

Dinerstein paints the stark Arctic landscape as beautiful and colorful. She surrounds us in ever-present light.

In addition to Frances and Yasha, all the peripheral characters are entertaining—from the artist Nils to local blacksmith to staff and manager of the museum. We have glimpses of Frances’s dysfunctional family. Her sister is marrying a man her parents don’t like, and they refuse to attend the wedding. Yasha meets Frances’s family looking over her shoulder at a computer screen. Yasha’s uncle from Moscow and his lost motherarrive for Vassily’s funeral. His mother stays on, working at the museum, and the man she has been living with in New York turns up later.

Everything about the book is entertaining—characters, setting, story. I highly recommend it.

Literary vs. Mainstream Fiction

I have a problem distinguishing between literary and mainstream fiction. And sometimes genre fiction seems to overlap into those categories. I spent some time poking around the Internet trying to find distinctions or definitions of the two and it only confused me more. The general consensus seems to be that literary fiction is more about style of writing that about plot, while mainstream is plot driven. I found that many believe that a crossover exists between mainstream and literary (and even genre). One suggested that literary was for the “elite” reader. Janet Paszkowski on absolutewrite.com tells a writing professor described non-literary fiction as “artless.”

Some of the interesting articles I read:

I claim I don’t enjoy most literary novels, but I have found several books that are classed as literary that I liked. I’ve reviewed some here on my blog; check the literary category. Some of them may be classified as “Women’s Fiction” rather than literary. Is that another crossover?

What sent me to the Internet to define literary vs. mainstream is a book I read recently (The Devil You Know by Elisabeth de Mariaffi) with a blurb on the front cover saying, “A gripping literary thriller….” To me this is an oxymoron. Thriller to me is definitely genre. The book was good and very plot driven, with good characterization. I would probably call it genre/thriller. Possibly mainstream since the writing didn’t exactly follow the rules for the genre. The one thing I see that probably classifies it as literary is the lack of quotation marks. This style of writing drives me crazy. Literary or not, I don’t see the purpose of eliminating quotes except to make a book more difficult to read.

The next book in my pile (All that Followed by Gabriel Urza) turned out to be literary in my mind. It is a twisted tale set in the Basque Country of northern Spain with three main characters POV: an American expat teacher, a young man almost accidentally involved in revolutionary activity, and the wife of an upcoming politician. Great reading! (He didn’t eliminate the quotation marks.)

I still don’t know the answer on how to define literary vs. mainstream. I think the definitions change with time and with the person defining.

Claire North —Touch

This novel is a SF/Fantasy/Paranormal weird story. I hadn’t read anything by Claire North previously. When I checked her out I found she wrote her first novel at age fourteen as Catherine Webb. She has also published under the name Kate Griffin.

I’m not sure why I picked the book up. It isn’t the type of book I usually read. It’s the story of Kepler, a “ghost” who moves from person to person by touch. “Have you been losing time?” The person whom Kepler inhabits remembers nothing of the time Kepler has been using his or her body. Many times he/she asks permission and leaves the borrowed body better off than when he took possession. He is fond of the people he chooses.

The story begins as Kepler is being assassinated and he jumps into the body of his killer. He is one of a group of people who know of the ghosts and are trying to eliminate them. Kepler sets out to discover who is behind this group. He wants to save the ghosts.

Even though it is a strange premise, the book held my attention. North’s characters, the ghosts, are interesting and her descriptions of settings are wonderful.

I enjoyed the story.

David Baldacci — The Escape

In reading some reviews of this book, I noticed some compare Baldacci to Lee Child and the protagonist, John Puller to Jack Reacher. There may have been some similarities (names and occupations) but there are enough differences in personality to distinguish them. (I prefer Lee Child and Reacher. )

Many unlikely happenings occurred to allow John Puller’s brother to escape a maximum security military prison. Hard to believe, but John Puller is assigned to track his brother. Even though there are many scenarios that suspend belief in the story, I did enjoy it.

Baldacci’s first novel, Absolute Power, is still my favorite of his stories.

Donna Leon — Falling in Love

It occurred to me that most of my reviews on this blog are more about the authors and their writing style than the novels. Maybe that’s true of most reviews.

Donna Leon’s writing fascinates me. She writes about Commissario Guido Brunetti and his police cases in Venice, Italy. I have read several of her books and feel as if from her writing I could visit Venice and feel at home. I also feel I know Guido Brunetti and several of the other characters in her stories.

The laid-back atmosphere of the Venice police permeates the book, interwoven and contrasting with a chilling plot. Brunetti takes long lunches at home with his family. He sits in his office contemplated the case he is working on, wanders the streets (or canals) of Venice not always knowing what he is looking for, and appears to socialize with others in his department as much as working. He has an appreciation of old Venice, its art, architecture, culture, people…and at times bemoans that it is becoming too much of a tourist destination.

The name of this book is misleading. It is a crime novel, a mystery, not a love story. The plot involves an opera singer who is being stalked. I won’t go into details about the book, but will tell you it ends with a powerful climax. Very unusual. Most novels give us at least one chapter of wrap-up after the climax. But none was needed.