Category Archives: reading

An ode to independent booksellers

Image courtesy of Anusorn P nachol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Anusorn P nachol / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I’ve noticed something in the air over the past few years, which seems to be becoming more and more prevalent. It’s the scent of revisionism; the aroma of awareness; the whiff of responsibility, and it’s come in part from the largely global nature of commerce these days. Multinationals are omnipresent and we all support them in some way or another. Me, I had a can of Sprite with my lunch today, I read a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, my mobile phone was made on behalf of Google, and I am typing on a Dell computer that runs Microsoft products.

What I’m noticing, though, is that despite the ever-increasing presence of multinationals - and even just national organisations which seem to have agents on every second street corner – in our lives, people are starting to realise the worth of the small corner store. They are conscious about where their money is going: sure, they want to get value for money, but they are prepared to pay an extra dollar or two in order to keep the profits local. A good example of this is the number of farmers’ markets which keep springing up, around Australia at least. Every second suburb seems to have one every few weeks, where locally grown seasonal produce is sold to eager buyers. Sure, it might be more convenient to buy your fruit and vegetables at the big supermarket down the road, but at least with the farmers’ markets you have more idea about how fresh it is, and you’re helping local producers.

Well, the same goes for books. We all buy books, don’t we? (At least, if you’re reading this, I assume you do.) And it’s probably cheaper to go to Target or Big W or Walmart or whatever your local equivalent is, but wouldn’t you rather your hard-earned money went to a local, independent bookseller rather than whatever company it is that owns Target (or Big W or Walmart)? There are a lot of people for whom this is important, and those are the people I’m reaching out to today.

Today, we’re going to plug our favourite independent bookseller. No matter where you are in the world, no matter whether you buy all your books from them or just a selection (and I admit I’m guilty of going to Amazon or Target or whatever when I’m looking for something cheap or convenient), today I want you all to link to an independent bookseller who means something to you. Who knows exactly what books they have and where to find them, and can offer recommendations based on what you’ve already selected. Who love the books they sell as much as you love reading them. Who inspire their customers to try new things and don’t mind if you sit down and start reading something off their shelves. And who get an enormous thrill out of seeing a young child empty their piggy bank onto the counter to buy a new book because that’s what they want to spend their savings on. (Be honest. Is the teenager staffing the checkout at your local discount department store going to react like that?) Go on. Give them a plug. Because the more of us who keep shopping at our independent bookstores, the more likely it is they will stay in business to inspire other people.

I’m going to start. My favourite is Imprints Booksellers in Hindley Street in Adelaide, South Australia. They’ve been there forever and they always have exactly what I’m looking for, with a smile and a helping hand if I need it. And seriously, check out the photo on the link. Wouldn’t you love to shop for books there?

I’m also giving a special mention to Annie’s Books on Peregian at Peregian Beach on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. I met Annie at Writers’ Week last week and her enthusiasm was contagious, and if she runs her shop with anything like that enthusiasm it’s bound to be worth a visit. (And checking out the photos on her website, I’d say she does.)

Right. Your turn. What is your favourite independent bookstore? Come on, don’t be shy. We’re all helping each other, and who knows? You might help someone else find a new favourite. :)

 

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Looking for exclamations(!)

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy ...

English: A black exclamation mark Magyar: Egy fekete felkiáltójel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

Ah, the humble exclamation mark. So much debate about such a little thing. Or is it?

 

For the uninitiated, exclamation marks are, apparently, to be used sparingly at all times. Elmore Leonard once famously opined that “[y]ou are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” F Scott Fitzgerald once told a student that “an exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke”. More modern rules include the directive that you should use only one in any one e-mail, for example. In other words, exclamation marks are a bad habit of the novice writer, which must be broken at all costs.

 

Naturally, there are exceptions. I recently re-read the Harry Potter series, in which exclamation marks are sprinkled with gay abandon. In fact, even a novice writer such as myself noticed the excess of exclaiming, which perhaps says that there may have been a couple too many. A lot of sentences are, in fact, stronger and more meaningful with just a full stop (period) rather than an exclamation mark.

 

Is the exclamation mark rule quite so cut-and-dried, though? Stuart Jeffries from The Guardian argues that they can make the written word friendlier, especially in things like e-mails which can feel a little sterile otherwise. (It depends, of course, on the content of the e-mail, but “Thanks!” usually sounds friendlier and more enthusiastic in its gratitude than “Thanks.” does. Don’t you agree?)

 

But what about in fiction? I admit, using it too much is off-putting, and using it in narrative rather than dialogue  is just plain annoying. But then again, in dialogue the rules change – apparently up to six per 100,000 words is considered acceptable. A quick scan of my novel (thank you, find function) had somewhat more than that, so clearly I need to do some work on this aspect of my writing, but sometimes I wonder how much weight that old rule still has.

 

I’m not alone in my appreciation of exclaiming. After all, people do exclaim and that should be recognised. But even I (along with like-minded thinkers) understand that there needs to be a limit. I’m just not sure that six per 100,000 words (in dialogue only) is it.

 

 

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A little here, a little there

Writing

You may have guessed that of late my writing itself hasn’t been at its peak. Of course, it probably doesn’t help that I’ve been working on three different projects, or that in my spare time I’m trying to do a number of other things (like find a venue for a child’s birthday party that doesn’t cost the earth – ugghhh!), but yes, it’s been sporadic at best and non-existent at worst. I suspect this is one reason I’ve been throwing myself in to editing so readily: because the writing thing just isn’t really happening for me at the moment so at least if I’m editing I can feel like I’m achieving something.

Of course, there are a million blog posts out there telling people how to get past writers block. Heck, I’ve written some myself. And I’m sure that if I really applied myself, I’d be able to get a lot more written … but therein lies the rub. If I really applied myself. The trouble is, getting around to applying myself just isn’t really happening.

This is risky behaviour for me. On the birth of my youngest child I gave up writing (and reading, for that matter) for  the best part of nine months. For anyone who knows me, this is nothing short of remarkable behaviour. Me, not read? It’s like asking the sun not to rise in the morning. But, I sense that it might be a very easy trap to fall back into. If I take too much of a break from writing – or reading – then goodness only knows how long it would take before the bug bites me again. Last time it was nine months …  who’s to say it wouldn’t be longer next time?

Yeah, yeah, I know. If I’m to call myself a writer then I have to write. Most people write because they can’t NOT write. Me, well I’ve proven that I can quite happily go without writing for several months. Does that make me less of a writer? I don’t think so, but it does make me pause to think.

In any case, I’m still editing. You know, that zeal that makes you want to get that manuscript just right, no matter how long that takes. Or maybe not just right, because it will probably never reach that peak, but at least good enough to send out into the world. And editing is a key part of writing, so in that sense I’m definitely a writer. And in the meantime, I do find myself jotting down ideas for my other two projects – character traits, things to remember, things to include in the plot arc. And that counts, right?

Yep, a little here and a little there. It all adds up. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

 

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Free plug for a paid book blogging gig

Book collection

Book collection (Photo credit: Ian Wilson)

Would you like to be paid to blog about books?

No, I’m not kidding. I saw that in my Facebook feed recently and thought it was worth sharing. Not FB “sharing”, because that would have gone to a lot of my non-bookish friends, but blog sharing. Which means, of course, that I’m telling you lovely people rather than, say, my mum.

momentum logo

The offer comes from Momentum Books, which is the digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia, and essentially they are looking for someone to write 4-8 posts a month about books, reading, and book and storytelling culture. Essentially, if it’s about a book, it could well be what they’re looking for, and they are offering $AU20 per post. You don’t have to be Australian to enter, but the posts do have to be in English. (Australians are generally a monolingual bunch.) They are especially looking for bloggers who focus on romance, fantasy and/or science fiction, but more general blogs will also be considered.

Sound good? Or, maybe, just worth looking into? Well, go to this post of their blog to get full information and submission details – but do it soon. Entries close on April 25th Australian time (less than two weeks from now).

Good luck, and happy blogging. :)

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I would be writing, but …

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

First of all, I’d just like to apologise for not posting earlier in the day, like I usually do. The fact is that I was having so much fun editing my novel (yes, I know, weird) that I just couldn’t bring myself to take a break and blog. But hey, I’m here now, right?

 

Today I’m going to talk about things that stop you from writing. Some would call it excuses, but to be nice I’m going to call it priorities. You know what I mean – the decision to read on the bus on the way to work rather than jotting scenes into a notebook, for example, or the decision to leave the pen and paper at home when you’re at the kids’ sporting events. Some people might see this as time wasted because you’re not writing, but maybe you’ve just made the decision that paying attention to what your children are doing is more important. It’s just priorities, and they are different for all of us.

 

Me, I’ve been spending time with the kids and, well, editing like there’s no tomorrow. Just today I deleted about 1000 superfluous adverbs, and I must say that my prose is looking a lot neater as a result. But I’m not even really talking about that sort of thing. Specifically, I’m thinking about that old fallback – television.

 

You see, last week two of my favourite programs started up again - Doctor Who and Game of Thrones. I love them, and I’m not afraid to admit that I will forego any number of things to stay up to date with them. Sure, I wait till the kids have gone to bed before turning them on – my children are a little young for even the good Doctor as yet – but I try not to wait more than a couple of days after release before I watch them. This is my escapism at the moment, and I’m protecting it fiercely.

 

I don’t feel guilty in the slightest. It’s been pointed out before that absorbing someone else’s creativity can be just as useful as your own in inspiring you, so I figure that’s as good an excuse as any. And hey, in the meantime I can check out how they are telling their stories, to get ideas for my own.

 

There. That’s my confession. Now it’s up to you: what won’t you miss to further your writing? And how do you justify it? Life is, after all, about our priorities.

 

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On inhaling the work of others

Writers Week Entrance

Writers Week Entrance (Photo credit: mikecogh)

 

This week, I’m taking a break from the writing/editing cycle. Also from the whole work thing, thanks to some annual leave, but generally from my own writing and editing. Why? Because this week I am taking in a writers’ festival.

There aren’t a lot of writers’ festivals in my home town. Every March, though, we play host to a swathe of authors of different genres, all in town to just talk about writing. It’s one of my favourite weeks of the year, and as such I take the time off work and just go into town and imbibe others’ experiences. A number of them I’ve never heard of, but what does that matter? It’s a great way to find out about amazing stories and to discover a new favourite author.

As such, I refuse to feel guilty about ignoring my own works, just for this week – though it wouldn’t surprise me if I find myself writing anyway. Just being surrounded by successful writers and hearing their stories can be more than enough to inspire me to pick up a pen and jot a few sentences (or pages) down. And after all, isn’t that what an event like this is all about?

So, I’m off to take in some of Writers’ Week – and who knows? Maybe I’ll hear the tidbit of information that just sends me off on a writing or editing frenzy. Or maybe I’ll find a real gem in one of the speakers and spend a fortune in the book tent. Or maybe I’ll just have a lovely, lazy week hearing what some of the best writers going around have to say on the subject of their work. Either way, one thing is for sure: it won’t be a wasted week.

 

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The Australian Women Writers challenge 2013

awwbadge_2013

Today, I’m officially announcing my participation in the Australian Women Writers challenge. The what?, I hear you ask. Well, it’s a reading challenge that was established last year as a way to stop the gender bias that exists in so many book review pages, particularly in the established media. This bias isn’t necessarily deliberate, but it does exist, and so the AWW challenge is a way to help change that. You can read about the background here.

Now, to say that I’m taking part in this doesn’t mean that I’m ONLY reading Australian women writers. Heck, I read over 100 books in a year, and only a small proportion of those are going to fit the criteria. But some are better than none, and a lot are better than some. I’ve already read two books by Australian women this year so I don’t see it as being a particularly onerous idea.

Here are the categories (from the AWW challenge website):

  • Stella – read 4 – review at least 3
  • Miles – read 6 – review at least 4
  • Franklin – read 10 – review at least 6
  • Create your own challenge – do you plan to specialise in a particular genre or interest area, e.g. Science Fiction, self-published or Indigenous literature? Are you aiming for a high number, e.g. all the books you can read?

Last year I signed up for Stella, which was easy enough. This year, to push myself a bit, I’ve decided I’m going to go for the Franklin – read ten books, review at least six. With all the great Australian women writers out there, it should be a piece of cake, right? :)

And now, I am going to ask you to consider signing up to this challenge as well. Below I’ve listed a few common objections to participating, with my solutions.

  • Not female? Well, who says you have to be a woman in order to read a story by a woman? I certainly read a heck of a lot of stories by male authors, Australian or not.
  • Not Australian? Why should that be a problem? Is there a rule that says you can only read books by people you share a country with?
  • No time? Hey, if I can do it, so can you. What’s the big deal in reading four books in a year?
  • Don’t review books on your blog? No problem! If you have a Goodreads account you can just review on that site.
  • Don’t know any Australian women writers? Well, luckily for you the people behind the challenge have set up a bookshelf on Goodreads for you to have a look at, with over 1000 books listed on it. That should be enough for anyone. :)

So, this is both my announcement that I’m participating, and my plea for you to consider it too. Just go to the AWW website and sign up.  It’s free, it’s easy and you might just discover a new favourite author.

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Book review: The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

This is a review of the book The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright, a novel spanning three generations and a host of characters in early-to-mid twentieth century America.

The story is about the family of Francis Grayson, a free-thinking famous and successful band leader in the 1940s whose career disappears with the advent of rock’n’roll. However, his career is almost supplementary to the story, which is really about the mysteries (and history) surrounding his mother, aunts and grandmother.

I’m the first to admit that in a lot of stories, it’s the tale of a previous generation that intrigues me more than the tale being told. Perhaps it’s because it’s something that is only hinted at, without being spelt out, but I have noticed it about myself. The Harry Potter books, for example, or the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, I find myself thinking more about what came before the events of the novels, than the novels themselves. (Okay, those are fantasy books, and this is historical fiction/mystery, but the point stands.) And, reading this book, I thought the same thing was going to happen again.

The novel starts in first person from the point of view of five year old Elyse, who is soon to become Francis’ step-daughter (and, later, adopted daughter), and her interpretation of what is going on around her. The next chapter, also in first person, tells Francis’ perspective on a number of the same events – much of which is at odds with the way Elyse told it. Even after reading the book twice, I’m still not sure whose is the accurate portrayal, or whether it was in fact a combination of the two. We later see the POV of Aiden Madsen, who had been Francis’ school master and mentor, as the story weaves between the early 1900s to the post-war era, telling bits and pieces of the Grayson family history as it goes.

However, my concern about not seeing the story that intrigued me the most was misplaced, as the story of Francis’ mother, and all the baggage that came with that story, was revealed as the novel progressed. In fact, the title of the book refers to Francis’ mother (albeit in a roundabout way), so I needn’t have worried. I suspect it was the fact that the book opened with Elyse that threw me, thinking that much of the story would be set in the 1950s rather than delving back into the past like it did.

This is, in truth, an awe-inspiring debut novel. It ticks all the boxes: engaging narrative, excellent characterisation, fascinating story, with even a couple of celebrity murders thrown in for good measure. Everything is linked by Francis’ seemingly unshakeable need to “fix” them all – the house, the women who raised him, and his relationship with Elyse, her mother and her sister – yet it is only when he accepts his own limitations that he finds peace. My only significant critique is that the voices all sound similar: the first person narratives of Elyse, Francis and Aiden, three very different people of different generations, didn’t sound particularly different to me as I was reading them. Several times I even had to go back a few pages in order to remember whose story I was being told. I completely understand how difficult it can be to change voices enough to differentiate them on the page to the reader, so I’m not suggesting any lack of skill on Fullbright’s part, but perhaps it might have been better to use third person in a case like this. (She may have tried this, of course, and it didn’t work for her, but that’s just my thought on the matter.)

Overall, though, it is hard to find anything bad to say about this book. If you like mystery, intrigue and a bit of romance, then The Angry Woman Suite is well worth picking up.

 

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The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright
Published by Telemachus Press
382 pages (paperback)
Available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

 

 

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Book review: The Harbour, by Francesca Brill

The Harbour, by Francesca Brill

This is a review of the novel The Harbour, by Francesca Brill. Set in Hong Kong during the Second World War, it follows the story of Stevie Steiber, an American journalist, and her illicit affair with British Major Harry Field.

The tale is an intriguing one. With a backdrop of impending war in a colonial outpost foolishly clinging to the belief it is untouchable, we see the frustration of a woman wanting to write something substantial and worthwhile, but forced by circumstance to deliberate on the frivolous antics of the British ruling class. You know, what sort of frocks are being worn to the races, that sort of thing. She is trying to convince some of the area’s most powerful Chinese women to allow her to tell their story, but always there is something in the background that seems to be going against her.

Add to this her quite frankly odd relationship with her editor (they got married to give her Chinese papers, yet he is already married and his wife is quite fine with the affair) and her fateful encounter with Harry Field and you have a fascinating and potentially explosive mix. That said, however, I didn’t really feel it lived up to its potential. Perhaps it was the head-hopping – I have difficulty with more than one or two POVs being shown per scene, and sometimes in this there were five. I understand that Francesca Brill has a background in writing screenplays, which is where this tendency probably comes from, but that doesn’t make it any less dizzying for the reader.I felt that perhaps more effort should have been put into external narration in these cases, as it is perfectly possible to demonstrate what a character is feeling or thinking by describing their actions, and it leads to less of a mosaic of points of view.

The other thing that may have stopped this story from fulfilling its potential is the scant attention paid to the feelings of the main protagonists. This is supposed to be a love affair that transcended everything, breaking up marriages, leading to social ostracism a la Anna Karenina, yet I didn’t really feel it. There was a lot of attention paid to what these people did, but comparatively little on how they felt and how that impacted on their decisions. In other words, the longing that they were supposed to be experiencing just didn’t jump off the page for me. For a book whose cover boasts the quote, “We need more love stories like this,” it was distinctly underwhelming.

Despite these shortcomings, it was a well written book and the story it told was indeed fascinating. As a debut novel it shows a lot of promise, and the characterisation of Stevie in particular was outstanding. I particularly liked her responses to questions about her personal life once the war had finished and how people tried to cope with her decisions  I also liked the depiction of Harry in the POW camp and how he came to do some of the things he did. The truth is that people’s actions, particularly in wartime, are very rarely black and white, and the shades of grey shown in this novel demonstrate that brilliantly.

All in all, I enjoyed  The Harbour. While some aspects of it did disappoint me, it does give an outstanding depiction of life in Hong Kong in the 1940s and the challenges and troubles faced by its inhabitants, and as I said the characterisation was indeed excellent. For a good historical novel about the war in Hong Kong, it’s well worth picking up.

 

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The Harbour, by Francesca Brill
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
342 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as  paperback and e-book

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Novel excerpt: Equinox (Ethos) by Desiree Finkbeiner

Today I’m thrilled to be featuring an excerpt from Ethos, Equinox by Desiree Finkbeiner. You may recall that I featured the first book in the series, Morning Star, back in May, so it’s great to be able to do the sequel as well. The final installment will be out in early 2013.

Ethos, Equinox by Desiree Finkbeiner

 

Here’s a taste for you:

—————–

We hiked down through the trees towards the camp, trying to keep quiet. I counted a few Jeeps, a couple four wheelers, and a rugged camouflage military vehicle with a satellite receiver affixed to the roof. There were footprints in the dirt surrounding the extinguished camp fire, leading off in all directions as if they had been camped there for some time—maybe a few weeks.

“What are you doing up here?” We were startled by a strong male voice with what sounded like a thick African accent, coming from the trees. I spun around and looked up to see a large, dark-skinned man sitting in a deer stand—so dark that the white of his eyes looked like alabaster set into ebony, his irises nearly black. He had a closely shaven head, was armed with rifle, and had a radio slung over his shoulder. He wore camouflage and combat boots. “This trail is closed.”

I glanced at Kalen, who was eying the man down with a discerning glare. “If it’s closed, then why are you here?” he shot back with a challenge.

“I work with the forest department.” He spoke authoritatively. “You have no business being here.” He pointed towards the parking lot where the RV was parked. “Go back where you came from. There are other places to hike.”

“We’re not here to hike.” Kalen stood his ground. “We’re here to see Brach.”

The man lifted his rifle and aimed it at Kalen. “Who sent you?”

“Hunter.”

The man stood there for a moment, sizing us up, but kept his rifle aimed at Kalen. Without taking his eyes off of us, he reached for his radio and spoke in a foreign dialect. Though I wasn’t sure what language he was speaking or what country it came from, I understood every word. It was definitely an Earth language, something from Africa, but he didn’t realize I could understand him. “Brach, there are people down here at the camp looking for you. They claim Hunter sent them. What do you want me to do with them?”

“Who are they? What do they want?” A deep voice sounded from the radio.

“What is your business?” The man relayed in English.

“We will only speak with Brach,” Kalen demanded.

“You will tell me, or I will kill you.”

Kalen smiled, stepping in front of me. “Your bullets are no good on us. Take us to Brach; we have news for the Rise.”

He glared at us for a moment, then called back on the radio, in the foreign dialect. “It’s about the Rise. They insist on seeing you. Two female, one male. They do not appear to be armed. What are your orders?”

There was a long pause before a response finally came, “Shoot them.”

———————-

Okay, I’ve got shivers up my spine! I can vouch for how good the first book was so I can’t wait to read this one, especially with a snippet like that to whet my appetite.

Equinox will be released in the next couple of weeks so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, if you haven’t read the first book yet, you can find Morning Star on Amazon in paperback or ebook.

About the author

Desiree Finkbeiner attained a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design from Missouri Southern State University (2006) with a heavy background in business, marketing, music and fine art– She was heavily involved in campus affairs and served actively in several committees focusing on campus entertainment and events.

She had a scholarship for acting in college though she was not a theatre major. Although she no longer performs or focuses on musical/performing arts, she has chosen to shift her talents to other areas that are more conducive to raising a family.

Continuing education is a constant adventure for Desiree with topics of interest ranging from civil and corporate law, history, political conspiracy, homeopathic medicine and spiritual healing. She prefers to read non-fiction, especially on topics that educate and broaden her perspectives on controversial issues.

With thousands of completed art works in her archives, most of which appear in private collections worldwide, Desiree hopes to focus more on publishing, marketing and licensing her work so she can leave a legacy behind.

 

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