Five of My Favorite 2020 Reads So Far

I’ve read so many terrific books this year that choosing favorites has been tough. So far, I’ve finished 25 novels and am on track to meet my 50 book goal for 2020. Looking over my list, I haven’t read as much nonfiction as planned, but I’ll do something about that later on.

I like to read different genres, although I haven’t gotten to all of them yet. I also enjoy reading both established authors and new ones (or at least new to me), independently published, and traditionally published authors.

The Sinister Pig

Let’s start with the authors who are familiar to me, Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton. I hadn’t read a Hillerman novel in some time, nor have I read them in order, but I picked up a copy of The Sinister Pig and loved it. Honestly, if you like mysteries and haven’t tried this author, to do. His protagonist Sergeant Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police and retired lieutenant, Joe Leaphorn are great characters. He’s also a master at describing landscapes, and incorporating Navajo culture, beliefs, and myths into the plots.

Q is For Quarry

I’m working my way through the latter half of Grafton’s alphabet series, and my favorite so far is Q is For Quarry. She’s always inspired me, and I never tire of reading about Kinsey Millhone’s complex cases. Like Hillerman, she’s a master at plotting, pacing, and descriptions. I’m reading T is For Trespass now and fear reaching the last book she wrote before her passing. Maybe I’ll just go back and reread them all, who knows?

The Templar Legacy

Steve Berry was unknown to me, but I wouldn’t be surprise if some of you have already read this terrific author. The Templar Legacy is a contemporary story about an antiquarian bookseller living in Copenhagen and former U.S. agent who finds himself in the thick of danger when a former colleague appears. Her quest inadvertently involves the Knights Templar who were thought to have disbanded in the 1300’s. It was educational, suspenseful, and simply a great story with references to actual historical figures.

Saturn Run

My favorite science fiction read was Saturn Run by John Sandford and Ctein. Sandford is another great mystery author with a long list of books under his belt, so I picked this one up to see how he tackles science fiction, and it did not disappoint. The book isn’t set that far in the future and features a race between the Americans and Chinese to reach Saturn, where alien life has been detected. Really enjoyed this one.

The Daemoniac

On the supernatural suspense front, I just finished reading The Daemoniac by Kat Ross and I just loved it. Don’t let the title put you off, as this is more of an entertaining historical mystery than a horror story. Set in 1988 in New York, the protagonist is goddaughter of Arthur Conan Doyle and she encounters real-life journalist Nellie Bly. It’s very well done.

I could go on, but it would mean adding another 20 more books and this blog’s long enough today as it is. Happy reading!

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Great Reads During Self-Isolation

An article in The Guardian this week reported that book sales in England are surging. Until the forced closures, sales in one store apparently went up over 400%! You can find the article HERE.

Given the world’s unusual circumstances, I’m sure the increase in book sales is happening in many countries. Not only are people reading more but they’re tackling longer books and classics like Ulysses . The article stated that other popular titles include The Bell Jar, 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Love In The Time of Cholera. I’m pretty sure you can see the pattern here.

The article also noted that adult nonfiction sales appeared to drop, which suggests that British readers don’t want reality in their reading time, which is understandable. For me, though, nonfiction is an opportunity to learn something new. I just have to be careful of the topics. My last nonfiction read (mentioned in a blog last month), Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges, was a grim look at the decline of U.S. on many levels. Based on the news out of the States this month, things are hardly looking up.

After finishing that book, I dived into a fun fantasy, a couple of children’s books, and I’m now reading two of my favorite authors, Tony Hillerman and Sue Grafton. Their books are not only master classes in crime writing but are truly entertaining. I’ve been reading both authors, on and off for years, so picking up more of their books is like visiting with old friends, as is Agatha Christie.

BooksI’m reading Grafton’s alphabet series in order and am now up to Q is for Quarry. As you can see from the photo, I have a few more to get me through self-isolation, along with my favorite reading beverage. Few things are better than a good book and a good glass of wine by the fire.

I also just finished Tony Hillerman’s The Sinister Pig. I simply love his novels, but don’t read them in any particular order. Hillerman’s descriptions of the New Mexico landscape are so amazing that I definitely want to visit that state one day.

What books are you turning to for entertainment or for learning these days? What takes you right out of your world and into another filled with entertaining escapism? Share your recommendations, as I’m always looking for more books. One day I’ll have finished Grafton’s and Hillerman’s work and, since both authors have passed away, that will be a sad day, so I must keep searching for great new reads.

Six Positives To Self-Isolating

This week is our first full week of self-isolation. My place of employment sent everyone home last Wednesday, my son’s company sent him home on Friday, and my husband voluntarily started working from home on Monday.

Right now, each of us starts our day at our usual time, but rather than head out the door, we go to our separate work areas. I and my husband have basement offices and my son has his computers set up in his room (he works for a cyber security company). So far, I’ve seen more positives than negatives to our new lifestyle, and here’s why:

  1. My husband is saving 2-2/12 hours per day of commuting, my son is saving 90 minutes, and I’m saving 40 minutes, which is good for the environment, our stress levels, and our wallets, even though gas is significantly cheaper these days.
  1. read-652384_960_720[1]Instead of reading from my iPad, I’m reading more paperbacks bought from my local new and used bookstore, who need and appreciate the support.
  1. I’m able to take care of more writing tasks and am eating better on my work break.
  1. I’ve found great new exercise workouts on Utube.Flowers for Mimo
  1. My husband and I are doing more yard work together, for the first time. He usually takes care of the garden and yard, while I’m out running errands, meeting my writers’ group, or going to the gym.
  1. I’m checking in with friends and colleagues more often on social media, making sure everyone’s okay.

And then there’s the silence. I live near a major thoroughfare and generally only notice the quiet at special times, like Christmas morning, during a snowfall, or when I can’t sleep at 3:00 a.m. It’s like this every day now, and I’m hearing far fewer police, fire, and ambulance sirens. It’s almost as if the world has grown calmer, although I’m well aware that there’s plenty of angst happening out there.

I also know that self-isolation is perhaps easier for me than others because I’m an introvert and a writer. On some levels, self-isolation has always been part of life. But I do understand how difficult it can be. When I was a stay-at home mom with young kids, without a car and living on a hilly street, and my husband was putting in ten hour days at work accompanied by a 3-hour commute, I desperately wanted to go out and do something, or run a much-needed errand. Transit was terrible back then and on chilly, rainy days it just wasn’t feasible.

Still, there are things I also miss right now, like chatting with my friend while working out and visiting my daughter (who’s in her 22nd week of pregnancy), and hosting families dinners. I miss all the book launches and other writing events that have been cancelled.

But we’ll get through this and will re-emerge, and be more appreciative of what we have than what we’ve lost. There’s plenty to look forward to in 2020, and every day is one step closer to getting back on track with a new awareness and valuable lessons learned from this experience.

Trying Not to Fret Over Literacy Stats

read-652384_960_720[1]I just finished reading a book by American journalist and Princeton University professor, Chris Hedges called Empire of Illusion (The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle), and he has a lot to say about the decline in American literacy, among many other things. The book was published in 2009 and the figures he quotes are a dozen or more years old.

Hedges says: “Functional illiteracy is an epidemic in America.” From there he reports that 7 million Americans are illiterate, 27 million are unable to read well enough to complete a job application and 30 million can’t read a simple sentence. 50 million read at a 4th or 5th grade level. Nearly a third of the nation’s population are barely literate, a number that grows by more than 2 million every year. A third of high school grads never read another book for the rest of their lives. 42% of college students don’t, and in 2007, 80% of families in the U.S. did not buy or read a book. Each stat lists a footnote citing sources that include the National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Here in Canada, things aren’t much better, according to a 2006 CBC documentary, which claimed that 42% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. I went online to look up more current stats and not surprisingly, the numbers vary from source to source, so like most things in life, I take all of this with a grain of salt. Common sense tells me, though, that literacy can certainly be improved, and that people, in general, appear to be reading less due to other entertainment distractions.

The book delves into other topics such as the captivation with the cult of celebrity, how people believe what they’re fed on TV without questioning its authenticity, and keep in mind that Hedges was writing about this a dozen years ago. For many Americans, their reality is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says it, and most of those elements are controlled by corporations.

This troubling information reaches far deeper and is far more important than any desire I have to sell books. Rather, it’s about the decline of language and communication and analytical thinking, and the impact on our culture, economy, education, politics, and quality of life, to name a few.

Readingabook[1]Hedges isn’t the only one who’s concerned. This week, I came across another a more current headline from Publishing Perspectives, stating “UK’s 2020 World Book Day: Reading in Sharp Decline”. You can read the piece HERE.

Throughout the book, I began to wonder what, if any, solutions Hedges has to the problems of literacy and illusion. He doesn’t really, at least nothing concrete, but I know a couple of people who volunteer to help children read in schools and in adult community centers. Helping one another to improve reading skills and create joy in reading seems like a good place to start.

Searching For Great Urban Fantasy Novels to Read

BookshelvesGiven that I’m editing my first urban fantasy (still untitled), I’ve read a fair number of fantasy novels over the past three years. I’ve discovered great authors in Jim Butcher, Kelley Armstrong, Justin Cronin, Darynda Jones, Deanna Chase, Charlaine Harris, Morgan Rice, Deborah Harkness, and Terry Pratchett. I could list another fifty lesser known speculative fiction writers whose books I’ve really enjoyed, yet I still feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of great books I should be reading.

When I came across an article listing “The 21 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Ever”, I had to take a look (you can find it HERE). My problem with these types of lists, though, is that they are subjective and woefully incomplete. Only 21? How come? Perhaps this is a word-count issue for the piece, and the author does admit that a lot of great writers have been left off.

Many on the list are classic novelists such as Tolkien, William Gibson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Douglas Adams, and Ursula le Guin. Given that not all of the must-read authors are urban fantasy novelists, I’m not rushing out to read every book mentioned. I’m still looking for more great urban fantasies to read, so if any of you have some favorites, let me know.

This brings me to the link within the article, (HERE) which features the best books of 2019 so far (31 are listed). None of the titles are familiar to me, but the author provides descriptions of each. No matter how you cut it, I have a lot more reading ahead. It’s impossible to stay on top of even one genre, isn’t it?

So, what do you think of the list(s)? Would you agree with the author’s choices? Would urban fantasy novels would you suggest as must-reads these days? I’d really like to know.

Celebrating International Literacy Day

tumblr_ma0chcq3dn1qedj2ho1_1280[1].pngFor those who don’t know, today is International Literacy Day. Created by UNESCO’s General Conference in 1966, the purpose of this event is to raise awareness of the important of literacy in communities around the globe.

According to one website, 16% of the world’s population, two thirds of them girls, are unable to read or write in their native language. While many programs are underway and doing great things to help, there’s still a long way to go. You can learn more HERE

There are plenty of things people can do to help promote literacy, but just helping someone with reading challenges is a huge and important step forward. When my kids were little, I spent many hours over the years reading to them. It’s one of the best things I ever did as a Mom.

This year’s theme is Literacy and Multilingualism. I work in the Linguistics department at a university here in Canada, and most of the people in my department speak at least two languages. Some speak four or five, and one professor far more than that! Three of our faculty members and others are working diligently to teach and record Indigenous languages, and to instruct other students on how to teach those languages before they are lost. It’s quite remarkable.

So, hats off to literacy and multilingualism, learning and communicating. No matter how technologically advanced we become, it doesn’t mean much if you can’t express and share your ideas with words.

Vacation’s Over, Now Back to Work

Vacations end all too soon, don’t they? We thoroughly enjoyed enough Puerto Vallarta sunshine (I used nearly a whole tube of sunscreen) and sleep (9 to 10 hours a night) to finally feel ready to face whatever this year brings.

Like pretty much everything in my life, I viewed this trip from a writer’s perspective. After all, most of us who love putting words on the page or screen, never stop thinking about writing even if at a subconscious level. We’re always coming up with new ideas and settings, mentally recording bits of dialogue or incidents, and I had plenty of time to do just that.

pool view, villa del mar, jan. 2019As you can imagine from this photo (the view’s from our balcony) I spent a fair bit of time observing people, sometimes from this patio or down by the poolside. Vacationers’ reading habits came as a bit of a surprise. Over half of the people reading by the poolside were holding paperback books. The majority of readers were 50 years and over. But many in the same age group, along with the younger generation, were also reading and/or scrolling through their phones. What surprised me most was the lack of Kindles and iPads there. I brought one paperback which I’d started reading before we left and then turned to my iPad for the rest of the trip.

patio view, villa del mar, jan. 2019This is the view of the other patio along the side of our corner suite. It was my quiet place to think and reflect and, yes do a little light editing for one hour a day. I also pondered writing goals and opportunities for the year. It might look idyllic but what you can’t see is the construction site just to the left, where workers were jackhammering and bulldozing to build a new hotel. Luckily, we weren’t in our room most of the day, and they didn’t work evenings or Sundays.

Lastly, and most importantly, this vacation was about family, creating new memories, jotting notes in my journal, and looking forward to the future. The shot below is of my husband and daughter, sharing a quiet moment. Actually, it’s quite momentous because my husband used to loathe the idea of putting his bare feet in the ocean, until this trip. He’s come a long way. Next time, he says he might actually try swimming in it. Baby steps, right?

elida and bark, playa de los muertos, jan. 2019So now I’m back to major edits, the day job, writing workshop facilitating, and more family stuff. Given that I’ve been on a leave of absence from the day job, it’s been a while since I’ve had a normal routine. But normal is okay. In fact, it’s just fine.

A Mini-Break To Start 2019 Off Right!

To wind up this three-month break from the day job, tending to family needs and other obligations, I’m excited to be heading off to sunny, warm Puerto Vallarta tomorrow. We’ll be joining my daughter and future son-in-law for fun, relaxation, and site-seeing.

This is my second trip to this wonderful city, but the first time we get to share the experience with family. It could be our last Mexico trip for a while, but who knows?

mexico, 2018The photo is a glimpse of the resort where I’ll be staying. I’m bringing lots of sunscreen and books on my iPad, and yes, a little light editing for those early mornings with coffee in hand, when the days feel fresh, creative, and promising.

I’ll also bring my laptop, but don’t guarantee that I’ll actually look at it too often. Those two-for-one happy hours and all that sun tend to sap my energy as the day goes on.

I won’t be blogging until the last week of January, when I’ll catch up with all of the great bloggers I follow. Until then, adiós!

Reading Goals This Year and Next

girl[1]Back in August, I blogged about my favorite reads so far this year. I had read 27 books at that point, but still had 23 to go to reach my reading goal of 50 books in 2018. By the time November rolled around, I was seriously behind in achieving that goal.

One book a week doesn’t sound like a lot, but with day jobs, family responsibilities, and daunting writing goals, it became more difficult as the year progressed.

Since I’ve been on a leave of absence from the day job, I’ve had more reading time. I also chose fiction that wasn’t 500 pages or more. Some of the nonfiction I read this year was pretty intense, and took a while to get through. So it’s not surprise that my favorite reads these past four months are all fiction:

. Force of Nature by Jane Harper

. Miami Requiem by J.B. Turner

. Judgment Road by Christine Feehan

. Trickster Draft by Eden Robinson

. The Watchmaker’s Daughter by C.J. Archer

. Land of Hidden Fires by Kirk Kjeldsen

. The Amulet Thief by Luanne Bennett

. Bound by Kirsten Weiss

Goodreads tells me that I’ve reached 98% of my reading goal, and as I’m just finishing another book, I’ll make my target, then jump right into my first nonfiction of the year, which is Judi Dench’s biography, And Furthermore.

It’s going to another great year of fiction and nonfiction reading, and the goal will be the same. I’ll be back at the day job in a month, and more challenges will be coming this year. Still, I can’t wait to discover new authors and different worlds.

A Happy New Year of reading to everyone!

 

The Rising Popularity of Audio Books

grateful-54-audiobooks[1].jpgWhen I first began selling my novels at craft fairs five years ago, I was occasionally asked if they were available as ebooks, which they were, and still are. Most customers owned Kindles and a few had other e-readers. This year, however, the most frequent question is “Are your books available in audio?”

The answer is not yet, but it looks like I’ll need to do so soon. Based on what I’ve read and heard this year, other writers are saying the same thing. While audio books are rapidly rising in popularity, however, the majority of people I spoke with don’t actually buy them, but borrow audio books from the library. This is anecdotal information, of course. Still, it does appears that this is where my market is.

First, I need to research how to go about creating an audio version of my books. If any of you are aware of a good service, please let me know. I’m especially looking for Canadian options to avoid the high U.S. exchange rate.

Also, please note that I’ll be away this week from Wednesday to Friday, but will catch up on your comments and thoughts then. Thank you!