The January Project, a summay

Since today is the last day of January, I thought I’d offer a brief wrap up of how it went.

My main motivation was to provide reviews. Seven authors have benefited from my at time slap-dash reviews.  Two authors reached to thank me personally and one offered an ARC of another book for review.  I’m humbled. I don’t know if any of my blog readers have been persuaded to read any of these authors, but I sure hope so.

In the process, I have discovered a wonderful, new to me author, Sarah Madison. I’ve also been impressed with the high quality work of several independent (or self-published) authors, including Lara Nance and Christine S. Feldman.

One erotica book triggered too many of my personal hot-button issues and I opted not to finish it. My limited experience with the genre has by and large left me cold, even though I know a number of charming, sane people who write erotica.

I have one book in progress, Joanna Lloyd’s Shadow Beneath the Sea and will include a review later.

Will I do this again? Oh yes. And I will make it a point to leave a review for everything I read that has less than 300 reviews on Goodreads.

The January Project

The January Project evolved from a desire to reduce my “To Be Read” pile.  Initially, I intended to only read books by authors I have met face to face and from whom I’ve received a free book. Then I decided that was arrogant, and potentially friendship ending if I didn’t like the work a person produced.  I decided to expand my list of authors to those I have gotten to know online and include books I’ve purchased as well.

My brain agonized over the point of this project.  Should it simply be to free up space on my bookshelf or should I incorporate a higher purpose? Why have I received so many books in the first place? Easy – REVIEWS.

When an author or the publisher provides you with a free copy of a book, whether at an industry event or through an on-line giveaway, a sale is lost in hopes of gaining more. Since fewer of us peruse the physical aisles of bookstores, a splashy cover is no longer enough.  For a book to become visible to readers, it needs reviews and buzz.

I offer the January Project as a way to help my fellow authors.

Here are the guidelines under which I will operate:

1. I will work from my existing to be read pile.

2. I will prioritize works with less than fifty reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.

3. I will step outside my reading comfort zone since I have met a number of authors who write erotica, a genre I don’t read.

4. If a book triggers one of my personal “hot button issues,” I won’t review it because I cannot give a fair and honest review.

5. I will try to note when I received a free copy. None of the books will be advanced review copies.

6. I will include publications of all lengths.

7. I may make an exception for audio books.  Although my library has several from authors I have met, there is no guarantee of availability during the duration of this project.

8. I will post reviews on my site and major review sites.

If you wish to join me (Lyra), please reblog. If I’m clever enough, I add you to my blog role or linked sites or something like that.

My top reads of 2013

If you’ve followed me since inception, you know the routine, and you might need your head examined. For the rest of you, here’s the run-down.  Each year in December, I post the ten best books I’ve read all year, regardless of when the book first appeared in publication.  I consider ebooks, audio books and yes, paper books so long as I read them this calendar year.  And since a few days remain in 2013, I pledge I will only read crap the rest of the year so as to not ruin my list.

10. Flowertown by S.G. Redling — I had high expectations for this dystopian novel and this book met-if not surpassed- them. After a chemical disaster leaves an Iowa town in quarantine, the inhabitant yearn for freedom or at least answers. Ellie is a terrific anti-hero who must decide whether to continue a slow death or find a way to channel her rage at the true enemy.  As an FYI- There’s a lot of language in here – didn’t bother me but it may put off some readers and may explain why it hasn’t taken off like some other dystopian series aimed more at the young adult market.

9. If the Shoe Fits by Amber T. Smith — This updated Cinderella story features an evil ex-stepmother, a talking cat, a pair of memorable shoes, Mr. Charming and an even more charming heroine in Ella.    I love that Ella has a lot of self-confidence and can laugh at her own propensity for getting into awkward social situations. She is the type of gal who will make you laugh so hard to spit beer out your nose on girls night out.  There is a terrific sense of play in this book.  If you want serious literature, run the other direction.  This book is a light as air delightful bon-bon, but sometimes, that’s exactly what you need.

8. Mrs. Perfect by Jane Porter — Jane Porter did something I never thought was possible – she made a type A perfectionist super Mom human. Part of the appeal for me in this book stems from how well it meshed with book #2 on my list.  The heroines surely ran into each other somewhere along the way with bile and hilarity ensuing.

7. The Help by Kathryn Stockett — this is one of those books that will fuel conversations for years.  It’s not a perfect book, but memorable with winning characters you think about long after you close the covers.

6. Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea — I blogged about this book last week.  Click here to see why it made my best list.

5. The Time Between by Karen White — Not only is this a strange choice since it actually came out this year, but I haven’t met anyone else who has read it, which is weird and a shame.  I’ll be honest, if I’d seen it in a bookstore, I might have walked past it, but I received a complementary copy from the author at a writing conference and picked it up when a bunch of other books were in moving boxes.  I won’t spoil the mystery surrounding the great aunts, but will say if you enjoy Southern Fiction (it’s set in the Carolinas), or even stories that address familial guilt, pick up this book.  You can practically smell the sea breeze.

4. Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim — Embrace your inner Nellie Olsen – Alison did, but this book is so much more. Part Hollywood memoir, part feminist manifest, part overcoming horrors, you’ll learn about humanity and laugh so hard you might pee your wetsuit. (See – that’s why you need to read the book).

3. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker — Another young adult dystopian, but this one, I’d share with my 10 year old.  Unlike many dystopians that feature a world divided by have/have nots and marked by violence, this looks at transition time.  The earth’s rotation is slowing, the time between sunrise and sunset increases daily.  This almost poetic look at the banal during a life changing epoch reminds me of my fave nuclear holocaust film/series of the 1980’s Testament.

2. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple — freakin’ hilarious and I admire the untraditional storytelling.

1. The Fault in our Stars by John Green — I finished this several months ago and words still fail me when I try to communicate the elegant, unapologetic beauty of this story of about teens with childhood cancer

So that’s it – what should I read next?

Review: Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone by Stefan Kiesbye

Stefan Kiesbye’s haunting novel, Your House is on Fire, Your Children All Gone is well worth adding to your reading list.  At slightly under 200 pages, this slim book has much to say about guilt, memory and the burden of wrongs.  Kiesbye writes with a poet’s use of words.  The technical writing is outstanding and each word matters. In this sense he reminds me of one of my all time favorite writers Jennifer Johnston, author of the outstanding, if hard to find, Fool’s Sanctuary. Both write short with an economy of precisely used words.  The beauty with which Keisbye describes horrible awful things is a rare talent.

read this

read this

Intrigued? The prologue begins with middle-aged adults attending the funeral of a childhood friend. The story then shifts gears and takes the reader back in time to when they were children. The chapters alternate narrators.  Often we get more than one perspective on a nasty event (think incest, rape, and murder both intentional and accidental).  Sometimes the reactions are immediate. Other times, years have passed and a character who was aged 7 during one episode is now a pre-teen or young adult.  We see how friendships unite and divide over shared memories of trauma.  There is plenty of guilt to go around and that is how this book relates to twentieth century German history.

Unlike the heavy-handed and nearly unbearable book B. Schlink’s The Reader (read my review here), Kiesbye interweaves the notions of collective guilt, perpetrators, victims, bystanders and sins of the fathers subtly throughout the book. Guilt and murder are so  interwoven in fabric of Devil’s Moor that the problems of the past are the problems of today, seamlessly, and for the characters in the book, without conscious thought.

Kiesbye treats his readers as intelligent human beings.  He doesn’t offer easy answers to the characters responsibility and duty to the past, just as there has been no clear and easy path for Germany to reconcile its present state and role with the horrors of the Nazi legacy.   In my opinion, Kiesbye’s book is par with any number of Gunter Grass’ work on a similar theme.

And if German History and memory and legacy aren’t your cup of tea, well then, read this book anyway.  It’s short, haunting and beautiful.

Let me know what you think…

Books for 7 to 9 yr olds

Some time back, a friend asked if I could recommend some books for a seven-year old boy.  I’m asked variations on this somewhat frequently so I finally decided to sit down and write out a list.  For this post, I’ll focus on series. I’m sure there will be more to come and these recommendations are in no particular order.  Most will appeal to both boys and girls, but not every child will enjoy each series below equally.

1. The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne – I have yet to meet a child who rejected this series in its entirety. There are nearly 50 books in the series so it can keep readers busy for a while.  Jack and Annie are siblings who find a magic tree house in the woods near their house.  The characters open a book they find in the house, say “I wish we could go there,” and are transported to the desired location. Before they can go home, they have to solve a puzzle and help either a person or animal. I like the message behind these books, even if as an adult reader, the writing style is a bit repetitive.  For kids just beginning with chapter books, the series offers mild thrills and the chance to learn about the structure of narrative – without even realizing it.

2. A to Z Mysteries by Ron Roy – Three relatable kids, Josh, Dink and Ruth Rose solve mysteries in and around the town of Green Lawn.  My daughter and I loved the friendship presented in the books.  Sometimes the kids get mad with each other, but they find ways to resolve their differences in a peaceful way.  There are enough clues to help readers solve the mystery. Each book comes with a map and readers can use that to help solve the mystery too.  It’s nice to see map skills in use.  Also, I like the way the three kids teach each other.  If one uses a harder vocabulary word, or casually mentions a tougher physics or natural world concept, a second character will be a bit confused so the first speaker explains him or herself, or they will talk about what they learned in school and compare notes on what they each remembered.  Ron Roy has two other series – Calendar Mysteries geared toward the same age range and Capital Mysteries geared toward more confident readers.

3. Geronimo Stilton and Thea Stilton – These rodents both know how to spin a good yarn and get human kids excited about geography, science and the newspaper industry. Heavy illustrations support the text, giving it the feel of a graphic novel, but these are chapter books. My daughter prefers the Thea Sisters series, but the Geronimo Stilton is equally good, if not better. Also, there are a lot of bad puns and literally cheesy dialogue.  The phrases “Moldy mozzarella” and “Fabumous” have become household favorites.

4. Bad Kitty Series by Nick Bruel – For earlier readers, pick up wacky alphabet book Bad Kitty which runs through the alphabet four times and serves as an origin story for our anti-heroine. I love the series for featuring a not so lovable feline who gets her comeuppance in a humours way.  Again, there is a bit of a graphic novel feel, and the heavy illustrations make this a good step into chapter books. The author “breaks the wall” so to speak, inviting the reader to become the anonymous narrator who talks to Bad Kitty. Also clever, asides by Uncle Murray to explain more advanced concepts and the glossary.  Some readers may be put off by the “bad” language. Uncle Murray often refers to “that stupid cat” but  the reader is asked to laugh along with and at the bad examples they see on the page.  Bad Kitty for President is one of the best explanation of politics I’ve seen.

I’ll stop here for now.  What series or individual books do you recommend?  My daughter is always looking for new reads and my son is a few years away from needing some other suggestions.

For the love of bookmarks

I’ve been experimenting with ebooks lately.  I don’t have a dedicated e-reading device, just an app for my i-Touch, but it is enough to give me a taste of the e-reading experience and to teach me something about myself.

I really like bookmarks.

The e-reading app lets me turn down the corner of virtual pages.  The ability to stop mid-chapter and not lose my place is handy, but the folded corner is no bookmark. I don’t fold down the pages of my physical books.  I will use anything at hand — a gum wrapper,a business card, a leaf, or a twig– in lieu of damaging the book by folding the page.

Besides, bookmarks bring me joy.  I recently gave my daughter the Garfield bookmark I treasured at her age.  I held back a tear as I recycled the beautiful gold foil trimmed rose my mother gave me when I first started reading chapter books.  It fell apart from years of use.  Han Solo accompanies me on Sci-fi journeys and my “Meg Cabot’s got your back” goes well with comedy.  I love promotional bookmarks from authors.  The clever pitches get me excited to read what ever book is being advertised next.  Sometimes, these pitches and a cute picture propel me to finish my current book faster so I can get started on the one touted by the bookmark.

I love finding other people’s bookmarks tucked inside books from the library and second-hand books.  I wonder who left their library receipt. More than once, I’ve been compelled to check out the other books printed on a stranger’s bookmark, I mean receipt.  I’ve run across hand written notes, credit card receipts, bank receipts, post cards, grocery lists and the occasional bookmark.  When I drop off books for my library’s book sale, I try to pass on promotional bookmarks where appropriate.  My own sort of recommendation.  “If you like Melissa Marr, you’ll love Memories of Murder by Lara Nance.”

I know I’ll get a dedicated e-reader soon, but I’m not ready to give up paper books yet.  I’m not ready for a world without bookmarks.

Books I hate to read (but do) – part I

I take my kids to the library weekly so they can pick out new books to enjoy at home.  My daughter (8) graduated to chapter books and picks a variety of fiction and non-fiction, but my son (4) gravitates to the same four shelves every week, just as his sister did at the same age.  Occasionally, he accepts my suggestions, but for the most part, I know we will come home with at least one Clifford or Berenstain Bear book.

Contrary to the slogan, I’m just going to say it — I don’t love Clifford.  I’ll give props to Norman
Bridwell for creating an iconic character that kids love, but that doesn’t mean I’ll share the love. As a parent, I loathe reading them.  As my husband points out, the art is terrible, but perhaps the kids like the drawing because the skewed perspective is a bit like theirs.

I’m more troubled by the continuity issues in the art rather than the style and quality of the art.  Buildings change color, size or disappear completely.  There are three distinct versions of the mother and at least as many versions of the father.  It makes me think Emily Elizabeth and Clifford have spent a lot of time bouncing through the child welfare system.

Artistic choices aside, I find the message unsettling.  The kids think Clifford’s foibles are funny.  I take away the message “you can only do good if you are big.” Clifford the puppy slips and falls and has to be rescued.  Clifford the Big Red Dog steps in to save a kitten from traffic, by causing an auto accident that so badly crunches the car, it’s a miracle the driver survived.  It makes sense that he could support a bridge, but the idea a building would burn to the ground if Clifford didn’t step in to help the fire-fighters is asinine. And an insult to the brave men and women who train hard to be fire fighters.

Time after time, Clifford is the best because he’s big.  I am not a big person.  I’m shorter than the average adult.  Does this mean I can’t do good? Does this mean my children cannot be helpful? That they will never be able to find the most easter eggs or lend a hand because they of merely average height? Is size really all that matters?  I hope not.

p.s – I’ll tackle the Berenstain Bears later.  In the meantime – what do you think?  I’m ready for the onslaught of Clifford lovers to sway my opinion.