From the bookshelf: January 2018 books I have read

Because I only pressed “publish” on the 18th Jan for the final book in my non-fiction cookbook series, I started out the year a little slow…. although I still set myself a goodreads reading challenge for 100 books this year (we will see how it goes – but I’m optimistic…. if I could manage 39 books last year, then I’ve got a good feeling about this goal this year:-).

Anyway, let’s get on with it… So in this 100 book reading challenge I’ve set myself some extra mini goals:

  • Update my reading in my favourite genres and the genres I write in
  • Continue to read widely, and to read genres I don’t usually read
  • Read some of the classics I’ve had on my shelf for years (not sure how many of these I’ll get through, e.g. Rebecca)
  • Read more indie authors and support my fellow indies.

Ok, so lets get onto the January reading…

Romance

Lemon Drops and Love by Angela Stevens.

I really enjoyed this book, and am half way through the next book in the series. If you’ve read a lot of series and single title romances in the past from the major romance publishers, you’ll like these books. The characters are believable. This particular story deals with the confronting issue of rape, but it’s ultimately a story of hope with a happy ending. I found the book compelling.

Very very steamy romance (e.g. erotica)

Big Gun by Dani Stowe

So this book fits in the “pushing myself outside of my usual comfort zone of reading” category, and after really enjoying Lover’s Catch by Dani Stowe (see below), I thought I’d give this book a go. The book has explicit sex scenes so if that’s your thing, you’ll love it. If you prefer sweet romances, and books that leave a lot to the imagination, this author isn’t for you. This book is fast-paced and easy to read. The characters were strong, and so were their motivations. I enjoyed the way the author wrote about the themes of family, age-differences and power. I also enjoyed the different insight into the military lifestyle. I prefer books which have love scenes which don’t walk the line with pleasure and pain so closely (I’m not a fan of pain -especially in sex scenes), but putting my personal bias aside, the book is well written, fast paced, emotionally intense and the sub plot with Carrot Top was sweet and made me cry.

Contemporary Fantasy with steamy romance

Lovers Catch by Dani Stowe

I really loved the concept of this book, it’s a reverse take on the little mermaid and it’s really cool (although, if you don’t like steamy sex scenes, then it might not be for you). The characters are interesting, the world building is really well done too. I’ve never read a merman book before and I liked the way the mythology and the physiology was dealt with too. A good read! I’m definitely intrigued about book 2 in the series.

 

 

A standing ovation for my new writing set-up.

There was a lot of talk a few years ago about standing desks and how they were so much better for you, and that “sitting was the new smoking.” But, I always thought “no way, that’s not for me.” I like to sit, with my chai (at home or a cafe) when I write (and I just couldn’t picture it feeling comfy). So when I heard an author talk about writing at his walking desk for most of the day  (in an interview on The Creative Penn) I was kind of fascinated (in a “I’m totally  never doing that” kind of way). But at the end of last year, as the cookbooks were finally drawing to an end and I began contemplating my goals for 2018 (of which “get healthy again” was in the top 3), I began seriously considering a standing desk, mostly because I was having some hip problems that made sitting and walking uncomfortable. (To be clear, I still had no intention of a walking desk…I mean, how does that even work??).

Anyway, fast forward a couple of months and my hubby and I were discussing the desk situation again. He suggested placing a board on the handles of our treadmill to see if I could get used to the concept of a standing desk (also, because we don’t have a lot of space in our house – last year I found a sweet, inexpensive little desk which I loved sitting at – until my hips hurt and forced me to the cafe almost each day – I am serious, it was the only place I could work sitting all day without pain).

I still wasn’t sold on the standing desk idea and we left it at that. But last week when the kids went back to school and I decided it was time to get serious about getting healthier. I looked at the treadmill again and said, “ok, let’s give it a go.” We found a spare shelf from the cupboard I use for my herbal dispensary and guess what? It fit perfectly across the treadmill. Guess what else? It’s a good height too! As I was standing and my hips started to feel a little achy, I decided (just to prove it was a crazy idea) to put the treadmill on slowly…. (and I mean really slowly – e.g. 1-2 km/ hour) and guess what? I LOVED it! I started walking and listening to music and writing and I didn’t realise I’d been walking for an hour!

So my hubby (B) and I are going to make some adjustments to the shelf so that it’s more stable etc, but this is pretty much my new writing set up 🙂 I don’t always walk while I write (like now, while I am writing this), but I’m making an effort to stand and walk each day, so that when I come to reading in the evening (or watching TV) I can do so without pain.

The best thing of all, is that I used to walk and listen to music when I was trying to figure out parts of my stories, and a lot of good solutions came from the combination of music and movement – so now I get to write down those ideas while I’m getting them. Pretty cool hey?  🙂

 

Is it what the market wants? Or is it what they accept because it’s all that is available to buy and read?

I have mentioned before that I’m not really a fan of the “write to market” concept – in the context of pumping out numerous “same same” books that apparently feed a “hungry” genre.

So why does it annoy me so much?

Mostly it’s because there seems to be an assumption that once something “takes off” that’s the only thing that people want from that moment on.

The two main problems I’ve found as a reader after a blockbuster bursts interest into a genre are:

  1. any sales of similar books (like the blockbuster) for a short time afterward seem to “prove” that the market is “hungry” for that kind of book (thereby perpetuating the belief that it’s all the market wants, and so people write even more books like that), and
  2. there’s almost no diversity on offer in that genre afterward.

I’m not a marketing expert or a bestselling author, but I am a reader, and part of the reason  that I was able to have such a long break from reading was because I was coming across a lot of “same same” books (urban fantasy was swamped with twilight wannabe stories with 18 year olds in high school and I’d turned 35).

People are hungry for escapism. Yes. So people will buy the
“same same” books. But sometimes people are only buying the “same same” books because they’re all that is available not because they actively want more of it.

To me the lack of variety is a bit like a kid saying “Gee mum, I love when you make pumpkin soup.” And then the mum makes pumpkin soup. Every. Single. Day. After a while the kid is no longer a fan of pumpkin soup.

Since I’m being so honest, I might as well share my feeling about tropes too. By the way, I get the concept of tropes, I do. But I’d challenge that certain genre tropes are essential. (I’m not fighting the Happily Ever After in a romance novel by the way – it’s as essential as a murder or theft in a crime novel or a chase or race of some kind for a thriller). The trope I find optional rather than essential is the snarky heroine. (Is it just me?). I like urban fantasy  in spite of the snarky heroine and not because of it. I personally think urban fantasy is a dish better served without that ingredient.

As I write this, I’m thinking back on the books I’ve read last year and I’m wondering if one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed the indie books is because there’s a lot more diversity in story lines?

So, I’ll finish this post by saying this: if you’re a writer, I’d urge you to stop writing “same same” pumpkin soup-like books, and if you’re a reader, let your favourite authors and bookshops or libraries know what you want to read more of (if they’re not supplying it).

Anyway,  I’ll get off my soapbox now and get back to working on some of those stories I have in mind….

 

From the bookshelf: December 2017 Behind the scenes of A Touch of Magic

In this post I thought I’d share a bit of the “behind the scenes” of A Touch of Magic.

Back in 2016 I started reading fiction again after an involuntary hiatus (due to being busy with study, producing Alternative Chef Kitchen and having kids that didn’t like sleeping for a few years). In November 2016 I decided to do NaNoWriMo after carving out some time for fun in my life again, and I ended up writing the first draft of an urban fantasy/ paranormal/contemporary fantasy story which I’m calling “Familiar” and you can read a little about that here. Anyway, at the end of 2016 I wanted to meet more authors (because it’s an odd thing we do and its great to have other people to chat with who understand some of the writing dilemmas and fiction writers have different challenges than non-fiction writers do). One of my non-fiction author friends said, “Why don’t you join twitter”. I’d previously avoided twitter like the plague because I just don’t do 140 characters (yes, I wrote poetry in high school but other than that I’m a long story girl. If I have a choice between a 100 page book and an 800 page book – I buy the 800 page one, especially if it’s part of a series and not a standalone). So the thought of twitter just didn’t do it for me. But, I was eager to meet more writers, so I decided to give it a go and created a twitter account. I was surprised to find it fun (if you’re read my previous posts, you’re probably starting to see a bit of a trend here, if not you might find this post and this post (about 2 different books I thought I wouldn’t enjoy but did) entertaining….). Anyway I began tweeting and retweeting quotes that resonated and I ended up “meeting” another author (D.P. Joynes). Dena introduced me to her online fantasy writing group that she’d met through Books Go Social and I joined the group just as they were preparing to publish a fantasy anthology.  The problem for me was that it was a short story anthology – the maximum story length was 25K words (Familiar was about 95K at that time…. I had thought Familiar would be a novella…. I had thought it would be standalone…. but Sarah Gai read it, laughed and told me, “Um no, it’s at least 3-5 books.” (Hmm…..)

So length of the submission aside, my other problem was the anthology theme: war. I don’t read war books, watch war themed movies (mostly because I find them so heartbreaking) and I don’t know much about the military. So I wasn’t sure I could “pull off” writing a war themed short story. But as I sat at the cafe, with my laptop open and the cursor blinking at me, I had an idea for a story about one of my Familiar side characters, and a way I could write about the war theme that suited my style of story telling. So I began writing and I ended up with a 25K word manuscript for a story I called Conflicted. I thought Conflicted might make a good standalone novella that people could read before Familiar, but my beta readers and editor Kim said “No,  people need to read Familiar first to understand this book.” (Bugger. I was back to square one).

By this time things were getting busy as I had a minor surgery scheduled, and the manuscript due date was looming (along with my Season 3 launch for Alternative Chef Kitchen, and some public speaking events). So I ended up deciding not to submit my story. But while I was recovering Dena messaged me and said that I should submit. So, as I lay in bed, recovering with strong painkillers and good books, I had the idea for another story. It was standalone and not linked to Familiar in anyway. “It’ll be about 5K words,” I told my husband. He just smiled encouragingly at me (after all, this is the man who heard me say, “I’m going to indie produce a cooking show.”) So the next day I headed to the cafe (painkiller free) and started writing. One of my favourite bits in the book On Writing by Stephen King is when he talks about ‘writing becoming a way back’ and helping him to heal when he was recovering from being hit by a car (luckily I wasn’t recovering from being hit by a car), but I had to agree with Stephen. Pain is pain and since I wasn’t taking pain killers (because I needed to drive), the writing kept me going. When I was at home, reading buffered the time needed between doses and as I was writing, I found myself able to cope without them until I got home.

My first draft of A Touch of Magic (the working title I had for the story at the time was Healing Wounds) came in at 15K words. Just like Conflicted, I explored the theme of being at war with yourself. Because I see that everywhere; in clinic I see people with chronic health conditions that are literally instances of the body being at war with itself from autoimmune conditions to people ravaging their body with stress because their mouth keeps saying “yes” to taking more on and doing more, and their body is screaming  “no”. So I sat at the cafe and began writing about Jessie. The other place I think we see “being at war with ourselves” is in ageing. People will pull out grey hairs and do any number of crazy things in order to look younger and resist ageing. Generally people miss the point: it’s not about arriving at old age looking as beautiful as you do in your 20s, but it’s about quality of life, independence and mobility. Being able to walk, feed yourself and live in your family home (if you want to). Being able to drive. See. Simple things that we take for granted when we are young. Lastly, you don’t have to look too far to find a scandal online now about health practitioners (natural or mainstream). Ironically it wasn’t my intention to write about a mainstream medicine vs natural war because my personal view is not “either/or”.  (I realised when I read a reviewers comment that some people might see it that way). My intention was to write about prejudices people have and how hard it is to hold one set of beliefs, and then have an experience thrust upon you which forces you to change how you think (some people accept this easier than others). Of course, I have come across “Jessie-like” characters in my professional life (and so have a number of my colleagues), but I’ve also come across the scary types who give natural medicine a bad name too and I can’t blame the “Jessie-like characters” for their opinions. So instead of writing about a natural vs main stream “war” I loved the challenge of putting myself in the shoes of someone like Jessie and asking myself what kind of experiences she must have had in order to have such strong convictions and how someone with such strong beliefs would cope if they were forced to have an experience that was in direct conflict to what they believed. (I like to torture my characters… if you read more of my stories over time you’ll find this;-) I love a HEA (happily ever after) but I will make my characters work for it;-).

Anyway, we all needed a quote that matched our story theme for the anthology. I chose the quote “Be kind because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” It’s such a true statement and in this time of quick-judgement and social media which makes it possible for people to have one-sided rants and ignore contrary opinions (by deleting, blocking or trolling), I wish more people would take the time to consider someone else’s point of view.

So that brings me to the end of this peek “behind the scenes” of A Touch of Magic.

It’s not your typical romance, or a typical fantasy. It’s a mix of contemporary fantasy, magical realism, sweet romance and contemporary women’s fiction.

If you’re curious to read it, or to read more of my stories, then click here to get the book and click here to join my newsletter list and I’ll keep you up to date on what I’m working on and when it is released.

From the bookshelf: November 2017

Ok so these books didn’t really fit one of my previous themes, so I thought I’d write about them here. They’re 2 very different books.

The Billionaire’s Virgin (Always) by Lara Love. I was watching Season 5 of Arrow as I was reading this book and I couldn’t help but think of Oliver Queen (before he became Arrow) as I was reading Pierce’s character in this book. Pierce is a billionaire playboy and was Charlotte’s first love. This is a fun read that’ll keep you engaged through to the end. If you love billionaire stories with sexy romance you’ll like this book.

The Guardian Angel by Kay Seely I loved the theme of this story which is basically about the power of believing in someone and helping them to be who they are. The book follows Nell, a carer for a wealthy autistic child (Robert) and the lengths she goes through to help this little boy. It’s a touching story, and even moreso knowing that it was inspired by Kay’s non-verbal autistic grandson. If you like historical stories with a touch of romance and a family thread  (especially if you like books with a Catherine Cookson feel), you’ll absolutely love this book.

From the bookshelf: October 2017 books I have read

In October I caught up on some of the Sarah Gai books I hadn’t got to read yet. Sarah writes heart-wrenching romances and fun light-hearted plus size chic lit that makes you smile (like a sweet cup of chai on a crappy day). I really like her writing style (even though her sad books make me cry!). So here’s my summary…

Winter Signs. Earlier in 2017 I read Autumns Dance the first book in the Season’s Named series. That book was fantastic and I wrote about it here. So I eagerly awaited Winter Signs when Sarah first told me about her idea for it (a deaf heroine with a heartbreaking past). No, I won’t give spoilers. I will tell you it’ll make you cry, (so have good tissues on hand). If you loved Autumn’s Dance, you’ll love this one too.

Loving Brody & Saved by Sam Ok, so it is hard to review/ summarise this book without giving plot spoilers… so I’ll say this. She’s done it again, and if you like books that give you a happy ending (but make you really work for it and cry in the process) then you’ll like this. If you read Loving Brody and think “What was Lisa on about?” read Saved by Sam (the second book) and you’ll know what I mean (I warned you. Have the tissues on hand). These stories have a similar emotional feel to the Season’s named series, although they are very different stories, and Loving Brody & Saved by Sam are a shorter read than the Season’s Named series (Autumn’s Dance and Winter Signs).

Sparkles in Love well, while Winter Signs made me cry, Sparkles made me smile. I really love the whole story and I think I’ve talked her into writing a second book (fingers crossed!). If you like Sarah’s Curvy Series then you’ll like this one. It’s plus size, sweet romance with a chic lit vibe. Sarah’s Christian and so most of her books have Christian themes but if you’re not into that at all, she doesn’t beat you over the head with it either and you’ll still enjoy these stories.

Sarah’s working on a fantasy series she’ll bring out later in 2018 and I’m looking forward to reading that when it comes out too. Check out her books here.

From the bookshelf: September 2017 Liane Moriarty – I am a fan!

 

 

Without a doubt, the highlight of my 2017 reading list were these 3 books by Liane Moriarty. Oh. My. God. They are so good! I’ve bought her other books and plan to read them all this year (2018).

Ok so where to begin. These are contemporary women’s fiction. Liane (an Aussie author) is not afraid to tackle tricky issues. Big Little Lies (yes, the book the VERY COOL TV SHOW is based on) tackles domestic violence, The Husband’s Secret will have you in a twist as Liane has you asking yourself what you would do in that situation (I won’t give it away, and if you don’t know what his secret it, don’t read any spoilers). It’s good. And omg the book is a page turner.  Lastly, What Alice Forgot, tackles the theme of memory – what we choose to remember and what we don’t (as well as family). It’s hard to pick a favourite, and since I don’t have to – I won’t. I’ll simply urge you to read them all, and as soon as possible.

 

From the bookshelf: August 2017

In August 2017 my novella A Touch of Magic was published in War Torn: An Anthology in Seven Realms of Fantasy. The anthology had the theme “war” and I chose to take a different approach with that theme and write about “being at war with yourself”. The  anthology featured 6 other stories from other international authors (American, Canadian, English and me, Australian).  It also featured stories from different sub-genres within the fantasy genre – ranging from traditional high fantasy through to time travel, urban fantasy and my contemporary fantasy. In November 2017 the online distributor the book was published through closed down it’s business and so we (the authors in the anthology) disbanded the anthology. I republished A Touch of Magic as a standalone novella. I’ll do an updated post on where you can find the stories by the other authors later in 2018 (so watch this space).

Unintended by Justine Alley Dowsett & Murandy Damodred. This is a fantasy story, with a Shakespearean style twist. It’s both tragedy and comedy and I laughed out loud in the first few chapters when the main character Kenzie en Shareed accidentally marries the wrong guy. It’s a perfectly titled story with a plot that explores the “unintended” theme to the last page.

The Magpies Daughter by Fiona Skye I was lucky to read this book as a beta reader. It’s a great story, set in the same world as Fiona’s Revelations trilogy series (I read the first book here), although this is a young adult book, I found it blissfully free of annoying heroines. The story follows Aeryn Walker as she learns about her fae heritage and then enters the fae world. I really enjoyed it.

From my bookshelf: July 2017 Books For Authors by Chris Fox

Books for authors part 2. Check out part 1 here.

The first book I came across in this series was Write to market. I’ll confess the title and concept turned me off and I was pleasantly surprised to find these 4 books interesting and worth a read.

So why did the title “Write to market turn me off?

Mostly because I assumed he (Chris Fox the author) meant: write what’s popular (whether you love it or not) to make money (e.g. sell your soul pumping out more crap that’s like everything else out there). I was wrong. It’s not exactly what the book is about.

 

 

I initially included a long section in this post about why I am not a fan of that concept – but I’ve decided to put it in a separate post, and just keep this one about my thoughts about this book series. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Chris Fox wasn’t saying “cash in your soul” in his book. (He was a little), but mostly Write to market is about writing books in a market you enjoy (although he does mention hitting the tropes). He also writes about how you need to sell books to make money as an author (obviously). I don’t see a lot of  books really working the maths out for your though… depending on how much money you want to make as an author, you’ll need to sell  a lot of books (especially if you’re only getting 35cents for a 99c book). Chris’ theory/ solution is that the best way to do that is by delivering a book in a genre that is “hungry” e.g. relatively new and isn’t yet “saturated”. The problem is, when many people do this, they saturate the market and then you have to go and find a new market.

Moving on to my thoughts about the other 3 books.

In a nutshell – as I said above, I was surprised to find I liked this non-fiction series (even Write to Market) and found interesting points in each of the short books. Six Figure Author and Launch to Market-were both quite interesting (I know, that word again, but I can’t see the point in using a different one when “interesting” is what I mean).

The title “Six Figure Author” turned me off too at first  to be honest, and mostly because I’ve  stopped believing anything titled “six figure anything” will actually deliver the results promised (and not for lack of action taking from the person purchasing said product). But in this book Chris writes about Amazon algorithms (a strange piece of magic in itself), the different sales “tiers”, and how many books per day people at number 1, the top 100, the top 1000, 10,000 etc. on Amazon.com are making. (It’s fascinating! Considering I’ve sold a total of >500 books and <1000 I don’t know the actual number but I think it’s about 700 now taking print and ebook sales into account) since I started indie publishing 3 years ago and I’ve had about 3K downloads of my free cookbook in the last 5 months, the thought that someone at number 1 is selling thousands of copies a day is like trying to picture the edge of the universe… you know it’s there and it can happen but it’s kind of hard to picture because it’s so far away. In these books Fox also writes about “also boughts” and the algorithm “cliffs” which are (sorry to use the word again) interesting because it was the first time I’d heard about those things.

Re Launch Your Novel. I liked this book too. The concepts were very simple and logical but it’s a worth a read if you plan to relaunch a book.

Anyway, that’s enough non-fiction. Next post… I’ll chat about the fiction I read between June and December 2017:-)