“The Uncertain Places”

August 27, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Fantasy | Leave a comment

I really enjoyed The Uncertain Places, though I’m not generally a fantasy reader.  Lisa Goldstein is a talented writer and this book has what I consider to be staying power.

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The story of The Uncertain Places raises some great questions about luck and envy.  What would you do if you could “have it all”?  How much of the good fortune in your life is sheer circumstance?  Are you controlled by fate?

“Area 51”

August 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Area 51, enigma and legend: Will the book that bears your name appeal to conspiracy theorists, or drive them around the bend?

When I saw this book I made it my business to pick it up and read it as quickly as possible.  In fact, Area 51 is a potboiler, despite its heft.  Annie Jacobsen is a terrific, engaging writer, and she appears to be an extremely thorough researcher.

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This book addresses UFO sightings and government cover-ups.  It will tell you all you want to know about Roswell.  You may be as surprised as I was, though, to find that this is maybe 10% of the story.  This is another of those “I have a history degree and I had no idea about any of this stuff” sorts of stories.  There are so many revelations never before published that I lost count.

Area 51 is an important, intriguing, creepy book.  One of the stunning things about it is that it made it into print.


August 22, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Craig Thompson has the rare talent of writing and drawing graphic novels in such different styles that they could have been created by different artists.  His stunning book “Habibi” is a masterpiece.

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Everything about this book is impressive.  I was most impressed by the effort Thompson appears to have made to learn Arabic script.  I was just blown away by “Habibi” and I can’t wait to see what Craig Thompson is working on next.

“Broken Harbor”

August 6, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Posted in Fiction | 2 Comments

One of the most satisfying pleasures of reading is bringing home a brand-new book by a beloved author and knowing you are going to love it. Tana French hardly needs my endorsement, but I just want to say that Broken Harbor was a fantastic read by a very talented author.

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I like crime fiction. Tana French’s work elevates what would be a thrashingly good detective story into magnetically compelling psychological drama. Everything we love about her work is here: the atmosphere of sorrow, creepiness, dread, and foreboding; the intricate plot; the nuanced characters; the dialogue. Once again she has given us the perspective of a protagonist who played a side role in an earlier book. All we can do is chew our fingernails wondering which one will narrate her next offering.

I read this book late at night, comme il faut, and it really creeped me out a few times. I thought I saw things crawling on the wall. I had to adjust my reading light to make sure it stopped casting a shadow beyond the page. It got my pulse pounding. Now that I’m finished with it, I’m a little sad because… well, because it’s over and it’ll be a long wait until the next one.

PS I took a crack at the cryptogram on the Acknowledgments page. I’m pretty sure it’s either not in English or it is more than one layer of code.

Knock Knock

August 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment


The Thrill That Had Gone

August 2, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I was just thinking about my poor, neglected blog, and how few books I’ve read since trying to write my own novel. The mojo seemed to have gone. The new Stephen King that I pre-ordered languishes unread on my shelf.

Then we went to Oakland. I took Sweetie Junior to a great bookstore called Diesel, fifteen minutes before closing. In that short time I saw that new titles by several terrific authors had been released without my noticing. Gold by Chris Cleave; Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness; A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers; Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel; and several others caught my eye. You know how it is at an indie bookstore. Every shelf has a handwritten tag pointing out an obscure yet fantastic book. Many of them I had read when they first came out in hardcover. I started feeling the mojo.

We left at closing and walked up the street to Pegasus & Pendragon. They keep later hours and that’s all I really ask.

And THEN – [cue violins] – I SAW IT.

Broken Harbor by TANA fricking FRENCH.

See, I’m a frugalite and I don’t typically… buy books. Especially not in hardcover. But I tucked this one under my arm and paid for it without batting an eye.

(Sweetie Junior is truly the child of my spirit. I offered to buy her a book but she declined. Instead she noted down The Night Circus and *gasp* The Magicians in her iPhone for later. It is very weird that she is old enough to read it now. Thanks for asking).

Now Broken Harbor is sitting in my lap. If Tana French were here she could sit in my lap too.

I’m back.

Not Currently Available

August 1, 2012 at 2:25 am | Posted in Book Blather | Leave a comment

It’s Booker time once again and I am trying to get my books. I ordered four from Powell’s using my accumulated store credit.

None of the remaining eight are available in the US yet.

Since I prefer digital books anyway, I thought I would buy them in Kindle format and read them on my phone. Alas, while they are all listed on Amazon, none of them are “currently available.” Thwarted!

This raises a few questions. Are the authors served by this arrangement? Is the consumer served? (No!) How long will this state of affairs last as more and more books are sold electronically?

It appears possible to circumvent the problem by somehow changing the location on my phone so the website thinks I am British. This sounds not only beyond my technological expertise but also a way to somehow get in trouble down the road. So I’ll resort to what I did last year, and order them directly from the UK Amazon. It’s not against the law or anything. Although probably not for lack of trying.

“Iceland by Bus and Backpack”

July 27, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I’m reviewing my own book!

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Iceland by Bus and Backpack is a short, digital travel guide.  You can download it onto your phone or laptop and bring it with you to Iceland, a big improvement on the large paperback travel guide we brought on our trip.  It’s also inexpensive.  You can have your very own copy for less than the price of a magazine, although you can’t really write phone numbers on it or use it to smack a hornet.

We spent three weeks in Iceland, traveling by bus and staying in camp sites.  Surprisingly, very few people seemed to be doing this.  Icelanders seemed impressed.  It was easy and relatively inexpensive – as low as 10% the cost of staying in a moderately priced guest house.  We found our travel guide totally useless for the purposes of camping, however, and I hit upon the idea of making our own.

The other reason I wrote this book is that I follow an alternative diet, and it took about a week for me to figure out how to find satisfactory food.  There is no reason for other alternative eaters to have to scrounge around the way I did.  So there is information for vegans, vegetarians, the gluten intolerant, and even low carb dieters.

I intend to put together similar travel guides whenever I go to a new country.

You should buy this book if you are planning to go to Iceland.  You should also buy it to impress me or to help fund my website.  You can even justify buying it just because you want to look at my many glorious photographs of Iceland.  Best of all, you can have bragging rights after I am famous, and tell everyone you were reading my stuff before it was hip.

Posting My First Book on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing

July 25, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

My first book is available on Amazon.com!  Here it is: Iceland by Bus and Backpack.

I’m still emotional about finishing my first novel and putting it out for the world to see.  I thought I would break the ice by posting a project I could feel “done with” and learning about the self-publishing process.  This was a great way to satisfy my curiosity and build my confidence.  Also, I had a great deal to say about backpacking and camping in Iceland and I felt my book would help other travelers.

Some unexpected issues surfaced in the uploading process.  First, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is promoting a book lending program, KDP Select.  I hadn’t heard of it and had to evaluate it in the middle of trying to publish my book.  Second, my book wouldn’t load, and due to my lack of familiarity with the process it took me two days to resolve the issue.  I will discuss those topics in greater detail after a cursory explanation of the process.

Amazon offers a free guide to the self-publishing process on KDP.  I found it helpful and easy to understand.  It recommends some formatting conventions, many of which I use routinely, and I was glad to find out that the formatting and conversion process was less complicated than I thought.  Don’t use tabs or indent paragraphs; use page breaks between chapters; center images.  Avoid page numbering.

Designing a book cover deserves real attention.  In retrospect it would have been nice if I had thought about a book cover while I was still in the act of taking photographs.  It would have been very simple to frame a few shots with the cover in mind, and then choose the best one.  In reality I must have spent two hours poring over thousands of images.  The KDP guide gave helpful advice on image dimensions.

Uploading a book involves two pages of forms.  The first page includes finding the files for the text and the book cover, and it can take a minute.  It’s possible to continue to the second page and complete it while waiting for the book to load, although it shouldn’t take that long.

Where I ran into trouble was that the book wouldn’t load, and I had no expectation of how long I needed to wait.  Two days later it still hadn’t loaded.  An error message that suggests trying to attach the file again would have been very helpful.  I contacted tech support and they didn’t suggest that simple approach either.  Finally my husband came in and did what was obvious to him – browse for the file and click Save again – and it was done in seconds.  I share this story because an extensive Google search failed to turn up any similar issues, but I doubt I’ll be the only poor sap in this situation.

The other issue I promised to mention was the KDP Select program that Amazon is promoting.  My book hasn’t been on the market long enough for me to compare whether I would make more money through KDP Select than I will by selling it.  So far I have sold a whopping TWO COPIES.  The way the KDP Select program works is that you make your book available exclusively through the program for at least 90 days.  Any time a Kindle reader chooses your book, you get a portion of the pool of money that subscribers pay.  The amount varies depending on how many authors/books are in the pool and how many subscribers are paying.  I got a newsletter that said the current payment per read was about $2.04.  That’s very close to what I think I will net per sale, so for me the question is whether KDP Select could garner more readers for my work.  I may write other travel guides in the future, but most of my planned works are not of this type, so name recognition may not be of much use to me at this stage.

What I really need is a reviewer!  I’ll be reviewing my own book tomorrow in the hope of attracting a traveler who can speak to my book’s accuracy, usefulness, and amusement value.  In the meantime, the fact that my book costs less than a magazine is not enough to appease wary purchasers of travel guidebooks.

The iPhone Changed My Reading Habits

May 10, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The threshold between books and electronic media has always interested me, and I’ve written about it often.  Now that I’ve had an iPhone for about three months, I thought I would weigh in on fantasy versus reality.

In my younger days, I was a Luddite.  A cell phone only made its way into my life because a friend convinced me to take over his contract (a dumb move and one I regretted).  Words can hardly express how much I hated having a cell phone.  I had a bad enough time with voice mail as it was; now people could make a noise inside my purse any time they felt like it.  I had a pretty bad track record for returning phone calls, or even answering the phone, as it was usually zipped inside my purse and stuck on the top shelf of the coat closet.

E-mail was even worse.  I’ve had the same address for over 15 years, and at no point could I ever be said to be “caught up.”  I would regularly get e-mail from various people asking if I was still alive.  A two-month turnaround meant I really liked you and felt highly motivated to write back.

During this period, a book was always at my side.  There were generally books in every room of my house, except the bathroom, unless I was soaking in the tub.  I might leave the house without my wallet, or lose my day planner, hat, gloves, or umbrella, but no way was I leaving the house without literature.  I am one of those people who loves the smell of printed books.  As a rule, I don’t check luggage when I travel, but the heavier of my two carry-on bags is filled with books, not clothes.  I have been known to buy books when there was no food in the house.  I often dream in text.  I fit the profile of a print media enthusiast in every particular.

Enter the iPhone.  The only event in my life to have surprised me more than my incipient smartphone fetish was my sudden passion for distance running.  I had hopes that this awkwardly shaped, expensive object would help me become a reliable communicator; I knew my budding career depended on this.  I gave it a try, with about the same attitude that many people hold toward their first bite of kale.

I was off and running almost instantaneously.  Suddenly I could answer research questions the moment they crossed my mind.  I could delete junk e-mail instantaneously.  I could see who left a voice mail and choose to delete the ones I knew were spam.  Within days I had no scroll bar in my e-mail inbox.  I haven’t been haunted by a single voice mail I can’t make myself play.  In fact I just found myself responding to an e-mail on my phone while standing in front of my desktop computer.  This is not the first time that’s happened.

Naturally, my reading habits have changed in response to the presence of a helpful genie in my pocket.  In January, I was maxed out on the 30 books I am allowed from the public library.  There are five left, and my 20-slot holds list is almost empty.  I have shipped off fully half the contents of my bookcase to Powells.com and I have over $100 in unused credit.

I just love reading on my iPhone.  I can hold it in one hand while I eat.  I can read and relax, knowing I am not missing any key calls or messages.  I don’t have to worry about due dates.  I have even started to relax about running out of things to read, or bringing a book in the car.  Holding a printed book has started to seem unnecessary, ungainly, unwieldy.  The printed page is prone to tears and stains.  (Look, iambic pentameter!)

One thing that has changed is that I listen to audio books even more than before.  I started with a defunct old CD player, and the scratched, skipping audio books I could check out from the library.  When I upgraded to an iPod, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.  With my iPhone came a Bluetooth headset that will actually stay put in my mutant, tiny ears.  (A Verizon sales rep actually said to my face, “You are a mutant,” after trying and failing to find a headset that would stay in place on me).  No longer were my headphone cords snagging on doorknobs or getting tied into macrame in my pocket.  Now I could run without the earpiece popping out.  I can even walk around the house with no earphones at all, simply using the speaker.  Coupled with the ready availability of the MapMyRun app and my desire to impress my Facebook friends, this improved audio book experience has upped my running miles considerably.  I even do more housework.

I do read actual books on my iPhone.  I love reading in bed at night, because I don’t have to juggle a book light any more.  My poor long-suffering husband has been flashed numerous times by my book light falling over and shining into his face.  There are no more lost bookmarks in the sheets.  And no more ink stains, as I can note down an idea without scrambling for a pen and then falling asleep on it.

What has changed the most is that I read the news even more obsessively than I did before.  News aggregators make this so easy – possibly too easy.  I always liked reading the news online, because it led to more follow-up and research on my part.  One advantage with the phone is that advertisements can be avoided.  Another is that it’s possible to read magazine articles without a subscription.  This is bound to change, as I’m sure those two conditions are giving Madison Avenue a real headache.

People have asked, “How do you read on that tiny screen?”  This could be a real issue for those with vision problems, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.  It’s bound to be a question of personal preference.  My prediction is that technology will (soon) advance to the point when it’s not necessary to read from a screen at all; the contents will appear as a hologram that can be shaped and sized at will.  This might be something projected from the device, or it might appear on glasses or a contact lens.

Since the iPhone got into my pocket, I have found myself reading more – and interacting with the screen more.  The dark side of this is that I’ve become one of Those People.  I keep everything set on ‘silent’ and most notifications turned off, but my husband accuses my phone of “farting” when it vibrates.  “Silent” still means it can be heard across the room by sensitive people.  It’s never more than a foot away (unless I am in the shower, and if it was waterproof I’d no doubt take it in there too).  It encourages a greater connection to those who are constantly wired, perhaps to the detriment of friendships with those who are phone- or e-mail-only.  For many, it appears to be too tempting to disrupt dinners, blather in public spaces, or risk the lives of thousands by driving and texting.

Despite these issues, smart phones are here to stay, at least until they are outmoded by something even more mind-blowing.  E-book readers report increased reading, and once the publishing industry finds a way to harness this, a fountain of dollars is going to start spouting somewhere.  If you’ve found yourself holding out in favor of paper books, be prepared to change your tune in the next five or ten years.  If it could happen to me, it can happen to you.

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