Big Name Books We Don’t Love

Last week’s post on why a particular book didn’t draw me in ended up generating quite an interesting discussion! And, according to my stats, last Thursday got more hits than any other day so far. Most of my blog followers are readers (many are also writers), so we all love discussing books. But when it really got interesting was when the author of the book in question outed herself in the comments, after we chatted on Facebook. It hadn’t been my intention to identify the book, but I had to give enough detail to discuss why it didn’t work for me, and who would know the book better than its author? I only hope I’m as professional and willing to learn as Elizabeth West was when bad reviews come in for my book – and I’ve no doubt they will. I’m not sure who said it, but one of my favorite quotes is, “Nothing is so good that someone, somewhere, won’t hate it.”

The comments also made me realize that Elizabeth is in some pretty prestigious company when it comes to books I didn’t like enough to finish. Prestigious as in, I am talking J.K. Rowling and Stephen King!


Yes! Harry Potter was a DNF for me! I love a good fantasy novel – in fact, I just read an absolutely wonderful untrained-mage-goes-to-college story: Fire in the Mist, by Holly Lisle. I enjoyed the first three Harry Potter books, too. The fourth… it was okay, and I finished it. But Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix began with eighty or a hundred pages of nothing happening, and I just lost interest in it. I’d been reading it aloud to my daughter, who was seven at the time, and she was bored too. After the first couple books in the series, each was longer than the prior installment, and not necessarily because more was happening, or it was a more complex story. Maybe I’ll pick Phoenix up again someday. But with three shelves full of books I haven’t read, not to mention dozens on my netbook and smartphone, it’s unlikely. It just seemed bloated. Now I have been guilty of this myself – in fact, I just went over Time’s Fugitive with one of my beta readers, who pointed out a section where she caught herself skimming, because it was all boring, unimportant details where nothing was happening that added to the story. At least it wasn’t in the beginning of the book. But thanks to her, it will get cut!

One thing I have not been guilty of – at least, since I started writing with the aim of publication – is the bloated, tedious writing I found in Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Although this book too, began with pages upon pages of nothing happening, it was far more egregious than the Harry Potter book. At least in Phoenix, we had a main character to focus on, root for (and wait for to do something). Black House began with over a dozen pages of nothing but omniscient description – a nameless, personality-less presence flying over a small town, describing it in minute (and boring) detail. It did eventually touch on Jack, the main character, but even this was boring description. Talk about a disappointment! Black House was supposed to be the sequel to The Talisman, a book I loved so much I’ve read it multiple times. I say “supposed to be,” because Black House was nothing like The Talisman, either stylistically or content-wise. There were hardly even any allusions or references to it! Well, at least in the 16 or 18 pages I managed to struggle through until I dropped the book on the floor.

I’ve put down romance novels, too, some by NYT best-sellers. Paranormals with characters I didn’t care about – heroines that were too invincible, too kick-ass. Romantic suspense with “as-you-know-Bob” dialogue and characters that were doing stupid things without enough reason. Contemporaries with watered-down conflict. Historicals that were the same as the last three historicals I read. And yes, plenty that just didn’t pull me in like the one discussed last week.

Don’t get me wrong, DNFs are the exception for me, rather than the rule. Next week, we’ll talk about books we love. But for now, what about you? Have you read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? That’s one I’ve heard a lot of people have trouble getting into, but it’s worth it – after about 100 pages! I’m not that patient. I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any blockbusters among your DNFs?

Why I Stopped Reading

Not everything! Just one particular book. It’s what some popular book review blogs call a DNF, to borrow from auto racing terms: Did Not Finish.

It was a free download, so I didn’t feel as obligated to finish as I might have if I’d paid for it. It wasn’t by someone I know, or anyone I network with, so that also cut down on the potential guilt factor. And I gave it a chance: it was approximately 75,000 words, and I read over 25% before I gave up on it, deleted it from my smartphone, and moved on.

boring e-book

Life's too short to read boring books!

I always like to analyze why I give up on a book, so I can learn something from it. The reason I put this one aside? One word: boring!

So what made this book boring? Or to put it another way, what did this book lack?

Well, for starters, it was a straight contemporary romance – no suspense or paranormal –  which I’ll admit is not my thing unless it’s a) really funny or b) really sexy or c) really emotional. This book was none of those. While it had its mildly humorous moments, they were super-mild, and I don’t know if they were even amusing enough to make me smile. It did have a consummated love scene in the portion I read – and I felt none of the rush of excitement or desire when the characters got it on. Instead, it was glossed over pretty quickly. But what really killed it was that the emotions were barely hinted at – and this was one of those best friends to lovers stories where the emotional whirlwind is key.

Add to that the fact that this was an office-set romance – which I have nothing against, but in this case, there were way too many boring details about work and again, at the cost of the emotions, the excitement and the fear the characters should have felt at risking being found out – and the impact it could have on their careers.

In a romance novel, emotion is what it’s all about. In a paranormal romance, some of the slack can be taken up by the weirdness of whatever situation the character’s in, otherworldly setting, magic, whatever. In a historical or suspense, there’s often other stuff going on that can pick up some as well. In this book, the author seemed to be trying to do this with the character’s work – which might have been okay if it was interesting, but it wasn’t.

In the book’s defense, it was well-written from a technical standpoint, it had an interesting premise, and characters that could have been people I’d have enjoyed spending a few hours with, had their emotions been better drawn. The book wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t have kept reading – except like most people, I have a To-Be-Read list (and pile of print books) that’s easily over a hundred books, if you count freebies I’ve picked up at conferences over the years that I still haven’t gotten around to reading. So with all that “competition” for my time…. life’s too short.

And this, I suspect, is the battle all authors face.

Read (or tried to read) any boring books lately? Or any that you just couldn’t see the point in finishing? Care to share why? If you’re an author, do you try to pick these apart to learn what not to write?

My Town Monday: Ohio, the Heart of It All – for Romance Novels!

Amazon.com released an interesting study last week: The Most Romantic Cities in the U.S. They based this on per-capita purchases by customers in cities of over 100,000 people – as in how many romance novels they bought, how many romantic comedy movies and television shows they rented or purchased, and purchases of CDs and sexual health products.

The results may surprise you; I know I was. Apparently, Virginia is still for Lovers, but not as much as last year – and not as much as Tennessee and Florida. New York certainly isn’t – NYC was at the very bottom of the list. The other surprise? Two Ohio cities made the top 20: Cincinnati at #5, and Dayton at #9!

So where are all the romance novels that take place in Ohio? It’s the first place that comes to mind when choosing a setting… oh wait, that’s just me. Or is it?

If you’re looking for a good contemporary romance, turns out it’s not hard to find one set in Ohio. Big name authors like Lori Foster, Jennifer Crusie, Toni Blake, and Diane Castell have all written a number of romances that take place in Ohio. Some are in big cities, like Columbus or Cincinnati, while others feature the ever-popular small-town romance, like Toni Blake’s series set in the fictitious town of Destiny. A recent read I enjoyed was Forever Material, a romantic comedy by Athena Grayson, which takes place in an unnamed suburb of Cincinnati.

Time's Enemy CoverBut what about historical romance, or paranormal? Those are a little trickier. The only historical that quickly comes to mind is Into the Valley, by Roseanne Bittner, which is several years old, but very good. For paranormal, there’s Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Waling urban fantasy series. I haven’t read these, so I don’t know how much romance is in them, if any.

Those all take place in Cincinnati. So where’s the love for #9 on the list, Dayton? Offhand, I can’t think of any romance novels set in Dayton except for one, and you need venture no further than this website for that. Time’s Enemy is historical, it’s contemporary, it’s paranormal. And it’s set in Dayton.

Do you know of any good romance novels set in Ohio? Especially historical or paranormal? Especially Dayton?? Bring ’em on! I want to read them.

You’re special! And so are you, and you, and you…

Worthwhile, or BS?

My daughter had to clean out her room – I mean, get everything out – before we painted it last summer. It was a huge job – she’s had that same bedroom, and the same furniture, same stuff on the walls, for years, so decluttering was long overdue.
On top of one box, was a blue ribbon she got one year at Field Day. This was one of the boxes that was headed for the garbage.

How could she just throw out a blue ribbon? Is she that un-sentimental?

I remember the day she brought it home. She was in third or fourth grade, and stuck it on the mini-bulletin board on back of her door. “You got a blue ribbon?” I was a bit surprised. You see, when I was in school, Field Day was fun for a lot of kids. A day out of the classroom, where we got to run and play and do sports. To me, it was sitting outside in the hot sun (it was always close to the last day of school) being bored out of my mind – on top of being an all-day reminder that I suck at anything athletic. You know, the slowest time in the 100-yard dash, last one picked for any team, guaranteed to strike out in softball and get hit with the dodge ball every time. My husband, on the other hand, is very athletic. But in that area, our daughter is more like me.

So her getting a ribbon in field day surprised me, until I took a closer look: “Participation,” it read.

"When everybody's special, no one is!"

“Everyone who didn’t win something got one of those.” She shrugged. “It’s stupid. One of those things they think is good for our self esteem.” She said “self esteem” in an air-quotes enunciation. LOL! Even at age nine, my daughter had already developed a healthy BS-detector.

Because that’s pretty much what it is. When I was a kid, only the winners got ribbons. If I’d gotten one, I’d have known it for what it was, too. Kids aren’t dumb. Most of them know this stuff is supposed to make them feel good, but it usually ends up just being patronizing. I don’t think not winning any Field Day ribbons gave me any major self-image issues. On one hand, it’s important to recognize the ones who do have special talents, especially when that may be all they have. My husband struggled in school, but he excelled at sports. If he’d gotten a ribbon for “participating” in a spelling bee (which he’d have probably been the first one eliminated), he’d have called BS, too.

What do you think? Does everyone deserve to be “special” or is this just needless pandering that everyone knows is BS?

ROW80 Update: Eat Lunch In

One thing that’s helped me achieve my fitness goals on the intake side is that I stopped going out to lunch. It helped a lot that my coworker who was the main instigator of lunch out, also wanted to lose a few pounds and stopped, well, instigating.

Also, I can leave early = more writing time. I don’t usually eat at my desk, as part of the purpose of having a lunch break is for workers to get away from the work for a short time, and hopefully come back a little energized. But instead of going out, I usually go to the kitchenette area and eat with coworkers. Side benefit? I eat with some really cool people, and two of them are now my readers!

Granted, this is not a very useful tip for those who work at home (including stay-home parents) but for us paycheck peeps, it’s a great way to save a half hour or more. And every half hour counts, right?

ROW80 goals this week:

  1. Finish read-aloud of Time’s Fugitive (about 10 hours)
  2. Read one Golden Heart entry
  3. Three interval workouts plus two short workouts
  4. Write and post review on Amazon & B&N of a friend’s book I just finished re-reading
  5. Bonus: type-in changes from read-aloud and send Time’s Fugitive to beta readers
  6. Bonus: dog walk or other activity in addition to #3

I did not get to either of the bonus items, but didn’t really expect to; hence why they’re bonuses.

I got in all three interval workouts, but missed one of the short ones due to the fact that I was gone all day one day, and wasn’t feeling well a couple of other days. But the writing got done!

This week, I’m going to spend getting caught up on related stuff. Here’s what’s on tap:

  1. Type in changes resulting from read-aloud of Time’s Fugitive and send to beta readers (finally!)
  2. Read one Golden Heart entry (#3 out of 5)
  3. Three interval workouts plus two short workouts
  4. Write and post review on Amazon & B&N of book I offered to blurb
  5. Finish web design side job I took on to pay off my publishing company start up costs
  6. Guest blog post I offered to do for my friend Michele Stegman (in addition to my own blogs)
  7. Go over two chapters for critique partner
  8. Cover design tweak promised to friend
  9. Tweak & validate epub file of Time’s Enemy and upload it to Lightning Source for distribution
  10. Go over stuff I learned with the release of Time’s Enemy plus stuff I’ve gathered from email lists, blogs, etc. and put together a launch plan for Time’s Fugitive
  11. Bonus: do anything that’s on the launch plan list
  12. Bonus: dog walk or other activity in addition to #3

It looks like a lot, but it’s mostly little stuff. How about you? Got any time saving tips for lunch, whether you’re a paycheck peep or a stay-homer?

Out to Lunch sign via Microsoft Office Images

Reading Outside Our Usual Genres: Northcoast Shakedown by Jim Winter

I first read Northcoast Shakedown by my friend Jim Winter, back in 2005, when it was first released in print by a small press. It’s a fast-paced, engaging story with a quirky main character who’s so real, it’s hard to believe he’s fictional. Upon the re-read, my original opinion stands: P.I. Nick Kepler’s a piece of work (in a good way!) and never fails to entertain.

The majority of my reading consists of romance, suspense, fantasy and science fiction; preferably a combination of two or more of these. However, it’s good to take a departure from the usual every now and then and try something different. For me, the occasional “different” is usually a cozy mystery or straight fantasy, or perhaps something more mainstream. Occasionally, I pick up something more straight-suspense, usually upon the recommendation of a friend, or in this case, something written by a friend.

Northcoast Shakedown is crime fiction, a P.I. story with a bit of noir that doesn’t cross the line into too dark and dreary. Main character Nick Kepler is a P.I. with the perfect, cushy gig of tracking down workers’ comp fraud and the occasional cheating spouse. When the book opens, he’s investigating just that, plus a questionnable life insurance claim that’s more a matter of saving an underwriter’s job than saving the company money. But the more he digs in, the more questionable the life insurance claim appears, and not for the reasons the company thinks. Before Nick knows it, he’s in over his head in a world of swingers’ clubs, political cover-ups, and murder, and finds himself next on a killer’s hit list.

What made this book really enjoyable was Keper himself. He’s a very relatable character, a regular guy who just wants to get his job done and kick back with a beer and watch baseball afterward. His quirky dislike of SUVs and ability to be distracted by an attractive female are among the little details that make him real and fun. He has certain principles that he refuses to compromise, and others that aren’t so rigid, and reading him wrestling with these choices is what really made me want to root for him, especially when he deals with the aftermath of a choice between shitty and shittier. While totally a man’s-man, his emotions are 100% real and believable, and Winter didn’t pull any punches getting them on the page.

I had a few nits with the book, although they may be more genre conventions than anything else. One thing I’ve noticed is that mystery writers sometimes spend a lot of words getting a character from one place to another, nothing street names, traffic patterns, and scenery along the way. For the most part, that stuff works in Northcoast Shakedown, as Nick’s often being tailed (or fears he is). I’ve read other books where the driving becomes a travelogue (and a place to skim).

Another genre thing is the need for suspects and red herrings in a mystery often results in a large cast of characters. Northcoast Shakedown is no exception. However, there are so many minor/extra characters in this book, I found it hard to keep track of them. In this case, I’m not talking about the long list of persons of interest – the book does very well there. But Kepler is a former cop, and has associates in several different departments in addition to other government types and colleages/customers at the insurance company – enough that they eventually ran together in my mind.

Finally, I’ve talked about dated books before here. In his author’s note, Winter mentions that the book was written in 2002. There’s definitely the occasional reference to outdated technology (Windows 2000? Firewire?). Kepler also doesn’t appear to have a smartphone, GPS, or even an MP3 player – and while I can see Kepler as a guy who refuses to use a smartphone, I can’t imagine him not owning an mp3 player these days (or at least using his computer as a stereo while he works). Knowing that the book was written ten years ago, I could deal, but stuff like this did momentarily take me out of the story. Still, these things are minor, and Northcoast Shakedown was as enjoyable a read now as it was when initially published. So if you’re looking for an entertaining, fast-paced suspense, check out Northcoast Shakedown at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Do you stick to mostly one genre when you read fiction? If so, do you occasionally step outside? Do you notice things that you think are probably genre conventions, but clash with what you’re used to?

There are Answers Hidden Here!

It’s Day Three of the Samantha Warren’s birthday bash Blog Scavenger Hunt, and there’s an answer to be found somewhere on this site! You may have to go back in the blogs a few weeks… or you may need to check out other pages on the site. 😀

Answer the questions by emailing Samantha for a chance to win prizes! You’ll also be entered to win the free Kindle she’s giving away at the end of the week.

Have fun, and happy scavenger-hunting!

 

Looking for fantastic buys on E-books? Then look no further than the Booklovers’ Buffet! Time’s Enemy and nearly 150 other ebooks are on sale for $0.99 each – there’s sure to be something you’ll enjoy at the buffet!

A Binge that Won’t Hurt Your Waistline – or Your Wallet

The Buffet opens today – the Booklovers’ Buffet, that is!

Nearly 100 authors of  Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy, Historical Romance, Inspirational, Mystery, Suspense, Thrillers, Women’s Fiction, Young Adult fiction, and non-fiction team up to offer the Booklovers’ Buffet, the buffet where you can load up without gaining a pound! Even better, every ebook on the buffet is only $.99, so you can load up without hurting your wallet, either. A great way to find new (or new-to-you) authors! So stop by BookloversBuffet.com today and stock up!

If you’ve been thinking about giving Time’s Enemy a read, here’s your chance to do it on the cheap! Or, if you’re in the Dayton area, you can now check out the print version from Dayton Metro Library!

  • The sale price is for e-books – many are also available in print, at higher prices.
  • Most books are offered through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords, so readers have a choice of retailers and formats.
  • The Buffet includes full-length novels, novellas, and short stories – most are novels.

This is a limited-time offer, so don’t wait too long!

My Town Monday: Doorway to Domination

Dayton's Doorway to Domination

No, I’m not talking about a doorway that takes us on a shortcut to becoming the Evil Overlord, sorry. It’s the doorway to Publishing Success, although not for me, a mostly-unknown fiction writer.

This is the side entrance into the historic Dayton Daily News building, at the corner of Fourth and Ludlow Streets, in downtown Dayton. The building itself has a storied history (insert groan here – pun intended). It’s a beautiful, classically- styled office building constructed in 1910.

The Dayton Daily News (then called the Dayton Evening News) was a failing newspaper, purchased by reporter James M. Cox in 1898. Cox changed the name after purchase, and within a few years, he’d turned the business around and was ready to move to a larger facility.

He approached several banks for a loan, but none would lend him money, claiming that newspapers weren’t a profitable business. He managed to come up with the money elsewhere (I couldn’t find where). In an effort to thumb his nose at the banks who’d turned him down, he had his building designed to look like one.

The Dayton Daily News building today

The building housed the staff and printing operations of the Dayton Daily News, as well as the other newspapers it absorbed, throughout the 20th century, until the new Print Technology Center was built about 15 miles south in Franklin. The Dayton Daily News bought the Dayton Journal and the Herald, two competing newspapers, and operated all three out of the DDN building (the Journal and the Herald were soon combined, and then rolled into the Daily News in the 80’s). These were the start of the media empire now known as Cox Enterprises, which is also the parent conglomerate of several other newspapers, dozens of radio and major network and cable television stations, and online classified advertising sites.

Advertising, editorial, customer service, and all other non-printing staff were relocated in 2007 to a newly-remodeled, former NCR office building about a mile and a half away on South Main Street. The historic building on Fourth Street now sits empty, its future unknown.

Does your hometown have any famous doorways?

More at the My Town Monday blog

Good Stories: “The Spelling Error” by Athena Grayson

I just finished re-reading another good short story: “The Spelling Error,” by Athena Grayson. Athena is a writer friend of mine, and “The Spelling Error” appeared in an anthology, Words of the Witches, several years ago.  It was as good last night as it was then!

What I really liked about “The Spelling Error” was how it breaks a stereotype held by many of us regarding people of pagan faiths. Many of us who grew up in conservative Christian homes probably have heard that pagans were “evil,” or at least, woo-woo new-agey types. While there may be some truth the later, the first couldn’t be further from it.

Lucy Dane is the 12-year-old daughter of a single dad – who also happens to practice pagan worship and the occasional bit of magick. So when her best friend blackmails her into casting a love spell for her, Lucy complies, even though her dad has warned her of the dangers of inexperience and magick, and forbidden its use until she’s older. For herself, Lucy wishes for someone to love her just the way she is.

Her dad, Paul, already does, which is why he’s determined to make his small coffee shop a success – or else Lucy will be sent to live with her grandparents. But things aren’t going so well, until business consultant Mira Taggart shows up to help Paul get his business on the right track. Things quickly heat up between them, and it’s up to Lucy to figure out if it’s the spell she miscast… or something more.

Rather than being the stereotypical expectation, Paul, Lucy, and Mira are well-drawn people so realistic it wouldn’t be a surprise to run into them at the grocery store, kids’ sports, or – of course! – at a coffee shop. Their values are the same as those practiced by those of more “mainstream” American faiths: family first, do no harm, and leave things as you found them – or better. Lucy’s point of view is exactly what we’d expect from an almost-thirteen-year-old who only wants to do what’s best for her friend and family, even if it means going behind Dad’s back.

As a side note, I designed the cover for Athena – a fun project, with the Egyptian influence! (Paul’s particular brand of paganism stems from ancient Egyptian deities and faith.)

If you’re looking for an entertaining and engaging way to spend a half hour or so, check out The Spelling Error! It’s available in e-book form from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.

Read any good short stories lately? Let me know in the comments!