Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Outlander - A Marriage of Passions

Now that I have your attention...I'm talking about my passions, not those in the book and I can hear the sigh of disappointment. No, this is about blending my passions for reading and for crochet.

Looking through my yarn, I saw I had two skeins of a mohair blend. The yarn is a mix of deep purple, reminding me of Scottish heather, greens of the hills and the gray of the mist with a gold metallic thread mixed in, which is hard to see in the photographs.  When I looked up the yarn on-line, not having bought it myself but having acquired it as part of a large stash I'd acquired, I found the colour name is...what else..."Scottish Meadows."

It immediately made me think of "Outlander," the first book in the series by Diana Gabaldon of which I am an admitted fan. Okay, maybe not so much the most recent book, "An Echo in the Bone," my issues with which would be separate subject entirely.

Only having two skeins, or 180 yards, I was limited as to what I could make but finally decided on a small moebius.  This seemed particularly appropriate as even Gabaldon talks about situations in her books wherein there is a "Moebius twist of fate" (See The Outlandish Companion by Diana Gabaldon, p. 337 HC edition).   So here you are, my pattern for

SCOTTISH MEADOWS (OUTLANDER) MOEBIUS
(US Terminology)

Yarn:   Mohair blend, or yarn of your choice,  180 yds.
             I used 2 skeins of Trendsetter Yarns; Dune in Scottish Meadows (93), 90 yds/skein
Hook:  9 mm (N/M) hook,
Size:   4" wide x 36" circumference
Time:  4-5 hours

Base:   Ch an even number until you reach your desired length; I did 140.
Join chain together with a SS being very careful that the chain is flat and has not turned.

Row 1: Chain 3 in same stitch as join, DC in each Ch thereafter, leaving last Ch unworked.

Row 2: Turn the work and stitch DC on the other side of the base chain until you reach the first Ch 3 and the unworked Ch. Skip the unworked Ch and join to the top of the Ch 3 with a SS.

Because the turn creates a twist in your piece, it will look as though you've done two rows as you've working both sides of the base chain. The twist will be more pronounces as you work more rows.

Row 3 and each subsequent rows: Ch 3 and turn. DC in the open space between the DC of previous row. When you get back to the beginning Ch 3, join with SS and turn.

Continue until the piece is the width you desire. You may end with a row of SS, if desired.

My piece is 4" wide which is enough for a (1) draped accessory, (2) can be looped for a neck warmer, or (3) looped with one piece pulled up for an ear warmer.

Feel free to make your own version, but please, don't sell the pattern.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Harry Potter brings together reading and crocheting

Part I of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" is due to release soon and I'll admit to being excited.  I knew I, and millions of others, have loved the books and go to the movies.  However, only since I've returned to crochet did I discover how obsessed are some fans. 

There is a book entitled "Charmed Knits" by Alison Hansel which is all patterns for items seen in the Harry Potter movies. There are patterns and forums on Ravelry dedicated to Harry Potter items, sites within the "Leaky Cauldron" website and, I'm certain, many other places of which I don't know.

I confess, I've caught the fever.  I love the idea of blending my love of reading with my love of crochet so I decided to make a scarf and make it BIG--sort of Harry Potter meets Doctor Who! 

LJ's Hogwart's School Unity Scarf

This is my adaptation based on the scarf Neville Longbottom wore in the 2nd movie.  I wanted it very long and didn't want a huge section of black in the center, so I added the middle sets of stripes.  It is done mainly in Tunisian Knit Stitch as I wanted the look and density of knitting but done in crochet.
Sizes:  Very Large (9" wide x 10'1" long) - mine
Large ( 6-7" wide x 9'4" long)
Materials:  Knit Picks Wool of the Andes:
Cranberry - 23425 (red) - 1.25 skeins (137.5 yds)
Caution - 24650 (yellow) - 1.25 skeins (137.5 yds)
Grass - 23439 (green) - 1.25 skeins (137.5 yds)
Winter Night - 23422 (blue) - 2.35 skeins (137.5 yds
Coal - 23420 (black) - 10.25 skeins (1,537.5 yds)
Hook:  Tunisian 8.8mm (I)
Gauge: Mine worked out to 1 row = ~.16" with
             688 rows x .16 / 12 = 9'4" plus 5" fringe on each end.
Abbreviations:
  CH - Chain
  TSS - Tunisian Simple Stitch
  TKS - Tunisian Knit Stitch
  SC - Single Crochet
  SS - Slip Stitch

Instructions:
Using the BLACK CH to desired width and turn
Beginning in 1st CH from hook, do 1 row of SC and turn
do a 2nd row of SC and turn so you are back on the right side

Once you've finished those first three rows, the remainder of the scarf, until the last three rows, is done in Tunisian. 

You now want 40 rows (not counting the three you've done):
Start working in Tunisian with one row of TSS
Beginning with next row, crochet 39 more rows in TKS
At the end of the 40th row, switch over to Cranberry.

1st set of stripes:
12 rows - Red
 4 rows - Black
12 rows - Yellow
 4 rows - Black
12 rows - Green
 4 rows - Black
12 rows - Blue
40 rows - Black

2nd set of stripes:
 9 rows - Red
18 rows - Black
 9 rows - Yellow
18 rows - Black
 9 rows - Green
18 rows - Yellow
 9 rows - Blue
60 rows - Black

Now, here's where you can leave out sections if you want a shorter scarf.  Do the 60 rows of Black and then move to the 5th set of stripes.  If you like a very long scarf, continue here.

3rd set of stripes:
 7 rows - Red
 2 rows - Black
 7 rows - Yellow
 2 rows - Black
 7 rows - Green
 2 rows - Black
 7 rows - Blue
60 rows - Black

We now invert the color pattern of the strips and begin working out:

4th set of stripes:
 7 rows - BLUE
 2 rows - Black
 7 rows - Green
 2 rows - Black
 7 rows - Yellow
 2 rows - Black
 7 rows - Red
40 rows - Black

5th set of stripes(pick up here for shorter scarf):
 9 rows - Blue
18 rows - Black
 9 rows - Green
18 rows - Black
 9 rows - Yellow
18 rows - Black
 9 rows - Red
40 rows - Black

6th (final) set of stripes:
12 rows - Blue
 4 rows - Black
12 rows - Green
 4 rows - Yellow
12 rows - Black
 4 rows - Red
40 rows - Black

END:
Here, I switched to a regular 8.8mm (I) hook and did
2 rows of SC
1 row of SS and tied off.

FRINGE:
Using a piece of 10" cardboard, wrap black yarn loosely and cut on one end.  I found three strands in each CH or SS gave me a nice, full finge.  For me, it came out to 216 pieces of fringe, or 36 fringe sets on each end.  I used the loop-through method.

HINTS:
For changing colors, when you come to the end of a row and have the last two loops on your hook, leaving a 3" end, loop the new color through your hook and draw through.  Then begin using the new color when you pick up the post.  I wove in my color change ends with a tapestry needle as I went, saving having to so do at the end.

For videos on TSS and TKS, I found the ones from Denise Interchangeable the most helpful: 

Please let me know if you find any errors or have any confusion about the pattern.  Please, do NOT sell the pattern.  The pattern is free or you to make your own scarf.  I have an Excel template of the pattern.  Just contact me if you'd like me to send it to you.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Reading

Although Fall officially starts in September but, for me, Halloween is the real indicator.  Autumn leaves, cool nights, pumpkins, Indian corn, corn candy and Halloween reading.  Okay, I'll admit I'm a wimp when it comes to scary/creepy.  Perhaps it comes from living alone, or from having paranormal encounters, but I still believe there could be monsters in the closet.

That said, I do still like books with that slightly creepy, might-be-possible paranormal element to them.  So here's my list of un-traditional Halloween reading, in no particular order.

GHOSTS by Ed McBain
I love books by McBain, particularly his early books.  It amazes me how he can create fully-developed characters, have multiple story lines and write an excellent police procedural in under 200 pages.  In "Ghosts" McBain gives us a double murder, a doppelganger psychic/medium, a blizzard and the ghost of a child.  I first read it many years ago and have never forgotten it.  

FAERIE TALE by Raymond E. Feist
Although Feist is considered a SciFi author, I love this book and read it every year or so. However, this is not your child's faerie tale even though it involves brotherly love and courage. It is fantasy; it is horror. It is creepy, dark, at times violent, at times sexual and always a page-turner. Those who love Celtic myth and Shakespeare will recognize magical elements of The Fool, elf-shot, Trooping Faeires, and more. It is one of those rare books that makes you feel as though it "could" be possible and causes even non-Catholics to wish for a vial of holy water, a silver sword and a true faerie stone.. Each time I read it, I find myself researching the legends and faerie folk involved, looking for erl-king hills and avoiding faeire rings at midnight on Midsummer's Night and All-Hallow's Eve. Next year, I'll remember to start earlier in the day so I'm not up until midnight finishing it. At least I wasn't in the woods. It's the blending of fantasy in contemporary life which, to me, makes this book so compelling, frightening and memorable.

THE MIDNIGHT ROAD by Tom Piccirilli
From the opening sentence, I found myself embroiled in Flynn's story.  Piccirilli's writing is lyrical, although a bit overblown.  He has an excellent ear for dialogue and knows when to use humor to provide a bit of balance to the dark.  This is an example where the weather becomes an essential element of the story, along with the talking dog.  The characters are eclectic and have violent histories.  I would have said this might not be my type of book, but instead, I found it a dark, intriguing, haunted and haunting book I couldn't put down.

A MINISTER'S GHOST by Phillip DePoy
This is the third book in DePoy's "Fever Devilin" series, which I love.  Set in the Georgia Appalachians, Devlin is a folklorist.  There is a paranormal aspect to each of the books in the series, but this was the one which was the most chills-up-the-spine scary.  





HAUNTED BALLAD SERIES by Deborah Grabien
There are now five books in this series of which I've read the first three:
- The Weaver and the Factory Maid (2003)
- The Famous Flower of Serving Men (2004)
- Matty Groves (2005)
The title and plot of each book relates to an old English ballad with the protagonists being folk musicians.  I found the books quite well done and each book somewhat creepier than the last.

THE SHADOWY HORSES by Susanna Kearsley

Archaeologist Verity Grey's book believes he has finally found the location of the lost Ninth Roman Legion in Scotland because of a local boy who claims he's seen the ghost of a Roman soldier walking in the fields.  I'm sorry I don't have my review of this; I must re-read it.  I do remember it is one of my favorite books by Kearsley, and that's saying something.


There are others, of course.  I really liked Lillian Stewart Carl's books "Ashes to Ashes," "Dust to Dust," "Time Enough to Die," and "Lucifer's Crown."  None of these are particularly creepy/scary but they do use ghosts in an effective manner.  Then there are those series I read that are more paranormal/fantasy:
- Jim Butcher - Dresden series
- Simon R. Green - "Nightside" series
- Laurell K. Hamilton - Anita Blake series up through "Blue Moon" after which she lost me
- Charlaine Harris - Sookie Stackhouse series

I also want to include my favorite Halloween movie: PRACTICAL MAGIC  with Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman and Aidan Quinn. 

So there you are.  I know there are a lot of books I've forgotten.  Please let me know your personal favorites.

In the words of the old Scottish prayer:

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Happy Halloween and happy reading,
LJ

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Excuse me...What are you reading?

This morning, while waiting for a friend and reading my Kindle, I was reminded that there is one major downside to e-readers— you can not see what others are reading.  If you’re an avid reader, such as I, this is very annoying.

I like to know what others are reading.  If it’s a book of which I’ve heard, I may even ask them how they like it.  Intrusive, I know, but there you are.

I love and understand the importance of marketing (I am looking for a job).  I also believe there are no problems, only solutions waiting to be found.  So, in my own, humble, personal way, I decided to launch a “Show-others-what-you’re-reading” campaign.

I have the original Kindle in a case from M-Edge with an inside pocket.  I downloaded an image of the book’s cover into “Paint”, copied it into Word and re-sized it so it would fit on a sheet of paper inserted into the inside pocket of my Kindle case with a notation at the top of “CURRENTLY READING.”  With a looped strip of tape on the back at the top, the sheet will remain upright.   As I always read with the cover folded back, the sheet will always remain visible.

My vow is to do this for each book I read on my Kindle, and I invite others to join my campaign.  If you have an e-reader, find a way to display your current read to others.  Promote that book you are reading and encourage others to do the same.  

Is this a perfect solution?  No.  However, it is fun and may prompt other e-book readers to follow suit. Perhaps publishers/authors will issue cards to slip into various e-reader cases.  Perhaps authors will make up cards to hand out at signings.  I know it's challenging as each e-reader cover is different.  But don't let that stop you.  Who knows where this may go?   Just remember, I thought of it first (as far as I know).

Happy reading,
LJ

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Author's photos

Okay, I'll admit it.  I look at the photos of authors on their book jackets.  I'm not certain why, except I feel it personalizes the book for me. Coming from a family of storytellers, it gives me an idea of who is telling me the story.  

Just minutes ago, I received "The Search" by Nora Roberts.  I've no idea how the book will be --she does write reliably good romantic/ suspense--but I do love her photo on the back.  It does remind me of some of the later photos of Robert B. Parker, which is not a bad thing.  Looking at the photo, my impressions are (1) I wish I were that thin, (2) I love the woods in autumn, and (3) very nice dogs--a bit of something for most everyone.

Have you ever been put off a book by the photo of the author? For me, a photo won't put me off from reading an author but I must admit I do like a current photo. I know we all get older, grayer, balder (mostly men), often heavier, and have more wrinkles, but such is life. Seeing the same photo ten, or more, years later, bothers me.

So what about you?  Do you look at author photos? 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reading to World Cup to Crochet

My normal average monthly reading ranges from 10-20 books per month. But then came the World Cup. Normally, I don't follow any sports, but World Cup always makes me a fan. That doesn't mean I know the rules, except vaguely, but I love the idea of it being a game at anyone--not me--could play, from the sandlot to the stadium, and that it truly is "the world's game." Even though the US is out of the competition--don't get me started on the referee's calls--I still follow it and choose my favorite teams game-by-game.

The downside of all this four-year fandom is that my reading has taken a serious hit. I've read fewer books than normal this month--okay, so many I did get ten books read--and nothing really made me think "Wow, what a great book." I haven't even written up my normal reviews yet.

The upside is that because I was influences by Grandmothers who believed that "idle hands and an idle mind are the Devil's playground," I have rediscovered crochet. Crochet was my craft of choice from the time I was 16 until I discovered needlepoint when I was in my early 30s. Due to neck/back and eye issues, I've not been able to do needlepoint for awhile now. But I've not pickup up my crochet hooks, bought some yarn and have gone to town.

I started easy with double-thickness potholders and made two pair for myself, am nearly finished with two pair for one friend and than will do two pair each for another friend and the mother of her boyfriend. Because joy of craft sometimes overtake rational budgetary concerns, I'm also making an 8' vertically-stripped scarf from baby alpaca yarn.

Once World Cup is over, I hope my reading will return to more normal levels, but I think crochet may fight for it's place as well.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Elements of My Reviews

On May 11th, Tom Schreck posted the interview I did for his series "Reviewing the Reviewers" (posted here on March 13th). As a result, a couple people have asked about my process for writing reviews.

When I was evaluating manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press, they taught me to look at eight elements of a story. It is the combination of those elements which determine the quality of the book.

The eight elements are:
1. Hook – Does the story grab you from the beginning
2. Setting/Descriptions/Sense of Place – Is it evocative
3. Characters/Character Development – Do they come to live, do you know their back story, are they fully-developed
4. Dialogue – Does it work and provide a sense the character
5. Plot – Does it work, does it make sense
6. Cadence/flow/style – Does it keep you involved
7. Originality – This is an extra points element for when I find a story that is truly original
8. Overall quality of writing – What is my immediate reaction upon finishing the book.

And there you have it. I have found it a very effective, and helpful, way of looking at each book without ever diminishing my enjoyment of reading. Oh, and I do take notes as I read.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Blood Harvest by S.J. Bolton

I don't normally post book reviews here, but I read a new book yesterday which deserves to be an exception.  Even so, this, and all my reviews will be posted on GoodReads.

BLOOD HARVEST (Susp-Rev. Harry Laycock/Dr. Evi Oliver/Ensemble-England-Cont) - Ex
Bolton, S.J. – Standalone – 3rd book
Bantam Press, ©2010, UK Hardcover – ISBN:  9780593064115   

First Sentence:  “She’s been watching us for a while now.”   

Reverend Harry Laycock has come to his new parish which includes Heptoncough in the Yorkshire Pennines.  Here there is an old church, a very old church a village which still carries out the old traditions and where young girls have disappeared or died.  One of the girls died in a house fire, but her mother, Gillian, never accepted her death and constantly roams the moors at night.  Psychiatrist Evi Oliver is trying to help her put her life back together.   Tom Fletcher and family have moved to the village having bought the only new house built in many years.  It was built on the old Church’s land, next to the graveyard.  They all learn that events of the past are still part of the present.

Although I really liked Ms. Bolton’s first two books, this one knocked my socks off.  Everything about it was so well done, it’s hard to know where to start.  Even from the page before the prologue, I was captivated. 

I am not a particular fan of prologues, but this one really worked.  However, I think the book would have been more suspenseful had the information in the prologue been in the correct chronological space within the story; about Chapter 50. 

I was introduced to a number of the significant characters who immediately jumped off the page and made me want to know more about them.  I am also not usually a fan of ensemble casts.  Again, this worked.  Although Harry, the antithesis of a stuffy vicar and for whom I would have provided a different surname, and Evi, the physically impaired, intelligent and independent psychiatrist, are the pivotal characters, all characters were alive and their interactions realistic.  

Dialogue is such an important element of a story.  Ms. Bolton has a skill with dialogue that echoes in cadence the speech of the characters.  As well as establishing a strong sense of place, she incorporates the history and traditions of the area. 

Combined with all these ingredients, what caused me to read this 421 page book in eight straight hours was the authors voice and the plot.  The first half of the book is an amazingly skillful balance of humor…”I haven’t had this much success with a woman since I got drunk at my cousin’s wedding and threw up over the main of honour.”… and underlying, delightfully creepy menace.  There is a real sense of “things that go bump in the night” which made me happy I was reading the book during the day.  The second half of the book moved to police and forensic investigation, and a race-against-time fear.   The climax was filled with an increasingly ratcheted tension and surprises right up to the very end. 

One observation is that Ms. Bolton does have a penchant for her female protagonists to be somehow physically impaired.  While the overcoming of the particular impairment shows the character’s strength and resolve, it can also become formulaic or even cliché over time.  However, as this is a general observation and not a criticism of this particular book, it does not impact my rating at all.  In this case, it greatly added to the suspense.  This really was an exceptional, “wow” book and one I shan’t soon forget. I cannot wait for Ms. Bolton's next book

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My True, Personal Ghost Story

Cindy Maher and I were exchanging emails about the sad loss of pets and sometimes feeling their spirits were still around.  I mentioned I had lived with a human ghost and she asked to hear about it.  Once I sent her the following story, she suggested I post it here.  So, on the proviso that she will also share her story with us, here it is.

My True, Personal Ghost Story

My former husband and I were looking for a house to rent.  From the moment I saw the turn-of-the-century, Craftsman-style house sitting on a hill--literally before I’d even stepped from the car--I knew I had to live there.  Almost from the day we moved in, I would find kitchen cabinet doors open and hear the open and close of the door to the outside side deck which connected the breakfast room to the back bedroom.  I would often sense someone in the kitchen.  I told Richard, we had a ghost.  Happily, he didn’t immediately send me to therapy.  After about a week, Richard came to me and said “we have a ghost.” 

I was in the kitchen one day and felt him--somehow, I knew it was a him. I just said “okay, here’s the deal.  I don’t mind you being here, but no funny stuff.  No more cupboards being left open, no knives floating around, nothing moving.  When I know you are here, I’m happy to say hello. I’ve no problem with you being here.”  After that, movement stopped and when I felt him there, I’d chat with him.

One day, Richard and I were out in toward the back of our very deep yard.  We were picking plums when we saw our neighbor.  Richard commented that the property must have been beautiful once as you could see where there had been planting beds, paths, and water facets.  He told us it had been  previously owned by an elderly English couple; Fred and Edith Pfeiffer.  They absolutely loved to garden but they fought all the time; yelled at each other constantly.  One Christmas Day, Fred went out under the apple tree in the far back corner of the lot and killed himself with a shotgun.  Richard and I looked at each other; we just knew our ghost was Fred. 

Learning about Fred explained two things.  I only sensed him in the kitchen/breakfast room and the back bedroom.   I never sensed him any further out into the house.  I surmised the back bedroom was where he slept.  He could get to the kitchen via the deck without having to go through the house, which explained hearing the deck door.  We also learned they were very Catholic, so my guess was that he was afraid to cross over having taken his own life.

Richard sometimes had an explosive temper—never physical, just loud and rather frightening.  He would occasionally go off over seemingly small things that were accidental; his brother's girlfriend accidentally chipping the edge of an antique bowl and not telling me, my trying to carry too many items from the car and dropping an expensive bottle of wine; to me, dumb things not worth the extent of his reaction.

Even so, when Richard left me, I didn’t see it coming. The night 3 months after he'd moved out and in spite of our going for counseling, he announced he was filing for divorce and I was devastated.  I went to a friend’s house, sobbed my heart out, came home, and cried some more. Because I had become so physically overheated, I decided to take a shower before going to bed.  The house was so old, poorly insulated and drafty, so I always kept the door closed to the back bedroom.  When I came out of the bathroom, situated between the two bedrooms, the door to the back bedroom was open.  This was not something Fred had ever done before.

I went to bed and sleep, but during the night awakened and was in that floating state where you know you’re not asleep but you’re not quite awake either.  I sensed someone standing by my bed and stream of bright energy circling from him to me. I had sense that I would be okay; the worst pain would be over and although it would still hurt, I would get through it. 

You know that difference you feel between when someone else is in the house but you can’t see or hear them and when you are absolutely alone in a house?  When I woke up in the morning, I knew I was alone and that Fred had left.  My theory is that by helping me with my pain, it allowed him to move on past his. 

It is odd how empty the house felt and how much I missed him as I always felt, during the two years I sensed he was there, that he was looking after me.  A few days later, my landlord’s gardener was there and called to me to see what he had found.  He had been working under the apple tree and found a completely intact green glass hip flask with a metal flip top, indicating how old it was.  He gave it to me, I cleaned it up and have had it ever since.  I figure it was Fred’s way of saying good-bye.

I ended up living in the house for 21 years, until the landlord announced he was moving his college-aged kids in.  It was felt to be my safe place and I loved it.  Before I left, but after the house was empty, I went through with burning sage blessing the house and thanking it for all the years it took care of me. 

I have had other brief experiences with the supernatural; heard the footsteps of one residual ghost and did not enter the hall where a less-than welcoming presence seemed to exist, but nothing such as my experience with Fred.  Time and my life have moved on but I still have Fred's flask and think of him often. 

So there you are.  Just so I know I'm not alone, please do come and share your personal ghost experiences with me.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Covers

I belong to several on-line mystery groups--DorothyL, 4_Mystery_Addicts, Crime_Thru_Time and others. At some point, the discussion always turns to book covers and their impact/influence on the book buyer.

I am probably something of an anomaly in that I almost always know what book I'm going to purchase without ever seeing the cover. I buy books of authors whose past books I've enjoyed, books recommended to me by others, or those for which I've seen a plot summary that appeals to me.

That's not to say I don't appreciate cover art and it's value. As one whose profession is response-generation marketing, I know the importance of visual impact and how little time one has to catch the eye of your targeted market.

Ideally, the cover should be visually compelling and relative to the story. However, when wearing my collector's hat, I also know if I've started a series whose covers display a particularly style of cover art and the publisher changes that style part-way through the series, I am not best pleased.


In reading all the various discussions about covers, I admit to never having found them particularly interesting. So image my surprise when having watched a short video by Phyllis Theroux on creating just the right cover for her book: The Journal Keeper, A Memoir.

Watch and enjoy (copy and paste link into your browser):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKNEsrf4L7E&feature=player_embedded


Now the big question:  Did the book cover and/or video result in me buying the book?  No, it didn't.  However, my love of wing-back chairs did cause me to stop and look at the book and watch the video.  

Perhaps more importantly, the cover resulted in my writing this blog and passing the information on to all of you, who might never have heard of this book otherwise.  Who knows how many of you may buy it?  Word of mouth, or post, as the case may be, is a very powerful thing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Libraries


The public library in Morris Plains, New Jersey, was right down the hill from where we lived. It was, and still is, located in a converted farmhouse, although without the two back extensions in my time. It was a quiet, cozy space to be and my best friend, Margaret, would hide away in the stacks and read for hours. I loved going by it every day on my way to school, but didn't spend a lot of time there.

My refuge was the school library.
I was a volunteer in our school library all though high school, which meant I didn't have to go to home room or study halls. The librarian knew me. She helped me write the best essay of my school career by asking me the right questions to give me focus. She never questioned when I would read books "above my level." Rather, they would often recommend books they thought I might enjoy. I read classics, historicals, a bit of philosophy; I even read the Russians. I am so sorry I can't recall her name.

I hardly ever go to the library any more. Once I left school, I started buying and, more recently, collecting books. Some say I know have my own library. However, I shall always treasure libraries and, in particular, librarians.

Come and share your favorite library with me.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

An interview with Tom Schreck

Tom Shreck, a fellow member of the mystery digest DorothyL, is doing a series called "Review the Reviewer" on his website www.tomshreck.com. One of those interviewed is...me. The following are my answer to his questions:

1. What really gets you interested in a mystery?


First and foremost, a great opening. That doesn't mean there can be a great opening sentence and the rest falls flat. I mean an opening sentence or paragraph or chapter that so captivates me, I've no choice but to continue reading.


Second, I read for characters. I don't always have to like them, but there has to be something interesting/appealing/redeeming about them. The strongest example is probably Ken Bruen's character of Jack Taylor. On surface, there is nothing to like about him. However, Bruen's superb writing always leaves me with a feeling of possible redemption.


On a broader level, I look at time and place. While I accept I may be missing out on some very good books, there are just some time periods and geographic setting in which I have no interest as they are ones to which I have no affinity. I'm not a big fan of the new Scandinavian mysteries. In spite of having a Viking ancestor in the 1300s, it's just not a location to which I can connect.


2. What bores the hell out of you?


Obviously anything poorly written, but I am so over serial killers, crooked/dirty law enforcement officers, gratuitous violence, addicts, adulterers, abusive men, too-stupid-to-life characters of either sex, the list goes one. I know all these things exist, but I'm not interested in reading about them.


Product placements and trying to be "current" is something I find both boring and causes me to really question why the author felt it necessary to include them. If an author has any hope of their book standing the test of time, I don't recommend they compare their character to today's heart throb of whom no one will know in two years, or of identifying a designer label known only to the rich and hip.


3. What delights you in a mystery?


I am delighted by humor. I don't mean contrived, visual humor. I mean wry, situational or character-driven humor which is part of the author's voice. I am delighted by an author whose style demands I read passages aloud. I should say while this delights me, it can definitely annoy my friends when I call them saying, "Listen to this!".


4. What cliches would you really like to see go away?


My number one irritant is the use of portents, foreshadowing, and/or cliffhangers. If I never read another, I'll be very happy. I'm not talking about a thread relating to a character which carries from one book to another. That can work as long as it's not a major plot element to that particular book. Any form of the "had she but known" portent will cause me to drop my rating on even the best book. To me, it is the sign of a poor author who feels they need a trick in order to keep you reading. Trust me, if the story is compelling, I'll keep reading.


I am also among those who can't stand when an author kills a pet in order to threaten a character. It has become predictable, is often gratuitous and usually could been accomplished in another way.


A great irritant to me is the current use of real historical figures or well-known fictional characters as detectives. I find it almost denigrating to the real person or insulting to the original author. I don't mind when either of those are used as secondary characters who are true to the original persona.


The last, of which I can think, is prologues. I know it has become common, but I am just not a big fan of prologues.


5. What topics, themes etc would you like to see more of in mysteries?


I don’t read for topics or themes. I may put a book down because of its topic or theme, going back to Question 2, but I can't think of a particularly topic or theme that would cause me to pick a book up. Okay, maybe books relating to Shakespeare, lost manuscripts, archeology or some form of art but the book itself had better be good or it may be the last of that author I read.


6. What mistakes do you think authors make?


The biggest mistake, of which I can think, is not having strong editors. And I mean having both a content and grammatical editor. Every author should have a grammatical editor and any author of a series needs both. The author should also listen to their editor. If the editor says the book is 200 pages too long and drags in the middle, listen to them. Bigger is not necessarily better.


7. Do you write? Would you like to?


No. I am too much of a perfectionist Virgo to ever be a writer. I wrote my first blog yesterday, and that was traumatic. Even answering these questions is difficult. I would spend so much time worrying about the accuracy and correctness of each word, I'd never get past the first sentence.


8. Who are your favorites?


That is such a long list I couldn't possibly list them all, and it changes over time. A few current favorites are Louise Penny, Fred Vargas, Peter Lovesey, Collin Cotterill and Susanne Alleyn. Long time favorites include Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series, Dick Francis, and Robert B. Parker.


At the end of last year, I did an analysis of that years' reading. I found it very interesting that my reading was an exact split of 50/50 between male and female authors, while 38% of the books were US authors and 61% were non-US, with the year before looking almost the same.


9. Why did you start reviewing? If you really hate a book will you still review it?

I started reviewing for myself in order to keep a record of what authors and books I liked, or didn't like, and why. I then became a reader of manuscripts for Poisoned Pen Press who provided me with some excellent guidelines for writing reviews. That refined my style. I have been the coordinator of The Easy Bay Mystery Readers' Group since 1995 and, each month, would relate some of my reviews to them. That started me emailing all my monthly reviews to the group, as well as posting them on DorothyL and 4_Mystery_Addicts. From there, it has grown. I now post my review on GoodReads, Amazon (US, UK and Canada), and Crime_Thru_Time (for historical mysteries). In addition, I am now a contributing reviewer to Criminal-History.co.uk, and the e-newsletter, Calamity's Corner out of Australia.

I personally buy almost all the books I read. The disadvantage is the impact on my budget. The advantage is being able to be completely honest. There are a few, very few, authors who know they can send me their books and I'll read them. I do receive other books, from authors and/or publishers. Some I read; many I don’t. I do review every book I read, even those I don't finish.

I work very hard to provide a fair, honest review. I never criticize the author. But I think it is important to provide an honest opinion--and it is my opinion--whether positive or negative, as long as I clearly explain why I feel as I do.


What I find most interesting, and most supportive of that decision, is when there is a book about which it seems everyone is raving. I read the book and find I disagree. When I post my review, I almost always receive emails from people thanking me saying they had wondered what they were missing or whether they were the only one who felt differently.



I love books. I love reading them, collecting them, seeing them on my shelves, having them on my Kindle. I sincerely thank all the authors and all the book sellers who so enrich my life.


All my reviews can be seen on GoodReads at: http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/250195

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Similarities

I read a lot. After while, I start noticing similarities that might not be apparent to others.

The other day, I read "Girl in a Red Tunic" by Alys Clare. This is a series set in 1100's England. There are two protagonists; Abbess Helewise and Josse d'Acquin and, while both characters are in each book, they alternate as to who has the principal focus.

I wasn't far into this current book when it struck me that the series style is a Middle Ages version of S.J. Rozan's Lydia Chin/Bill Smith books. To be correct, I should state this the other way around as, I believe, the Clare series started prior to the Rozan.

What I like about both series is that there is not an intimate relationship between either set of protagonists, although some of us are holding out hope for Bill and Lydia. In each pairing, the characters come from very different backgrounds, yet have become friends and are always there for each other. And isn't that what real friendship is about.

I am certain there are many other series that reflect this same model. Come on in and let me know your favorites.