Friday, November 29, 2013

Do You Have a Library?

My dream house—or even my current house, remodeled by someone with far more money than I have—includes a library. A real library, defined as a separate room or nook or designated space, solely for book storage and comfortable reading.

My library will have a fireplace for atmosphere and cozy warmth; overstuffed, oversized chairs in which I can lose myself while reading; lots of natural light as well as different lighting options; a tin ceiling with a cool design; a coffeemaker (of course!); my laptop; a desk . . . and books. Everywhere, books. 

Hardcover and softcover. Old and new. Uniform sets and mismatched thrift-store finds. Fiction and non-fiction. Children's and adult.

I don't need them to look pretty; I only need to know that I've read them and I like them. We currently have 21 sets of bookshelves in our house, tall and short—a total of 75 shelves—and they are jam-packed full. I also currently have a couple of large boxes of books in the attic that we're saving for the grandkids (very distant future) and a few boxes full of sell/give (near future). I'm serious about wanting a library. I can't imagine how tidy the rest of my house would look if all the books were in one room. Plus, I could have one of those cool ladders to ride around the room.

When I was a little girl, my mom would take us to the local library—the same library she grew up using—on a regular basis. As an adult looking back, I realize our library was a treasure of old-style architectural beauty, with wide, curved staircases, marble floors, and lots of gorgeous wood. As a kid, all I knew was that I could find Nancy Drew in the kids' section off to the right of the front entrance. I often worried back then that I would read through all the age-appropriate selections and run out of books—and then, what would I do? Thankfully, that never happened, and my love of the library never diminished.

When my own kids were younger, I took them to the library every week. We'd walk in, and regardless of which librarian was at the counter, we were greeted with, "Hello, Dietzes!" The kids each got their own library cards when they turned five years old, and loved it that the librarians knew them by name and always had book recommendations for them. As homeschoolers, we could go during the earlier part of the day when there weren't as many people around, which was wonderful during checkout time because we each had huge stacks of books that took up all the space on the counter.

One of my biggest thrills two years ago was seeing the ruins at Ephesus during a trip to Turkey. My favorite part, on that trip and on the same trip the following year, was this:

Yep, it's a library. THE library. Five stories high by modern standards. I could not tear myself away from this place, even during my second visit. Here's some perspective on the height:

Every detail drew me in, from floor to beautiful ceiling.

I wandered around inside for the longest time, imagining a time when it was filled with people, meeting and discussing the latest happenings. Talking was allowed in the library in those days, I'm sure.

Libraries are essential, whether public or private. Books are too important. And a well-stocked home library should be filled not with books that look good, but books that have been read. An online acquaintance was once discussing her home library and told of a time when a guest at their house, impressed with the sheer number of books, asked, "So . . . how many of these have you read?" He was astounded when she answered, "All of them." In her opinion, it was not worth owning the books if their purpose was ignored.

With this thought in mind, I've spent the last couple days going through my Kindle library in my spare time. I've deleted hundreds of books from the thousands stored there, and will probably continue to delete hundreds more. When I first got my Kindle, it was a real kick for me to be able to download books with a simple click and ten seconds of my time. I started with the classics, even the ones I had in physical form, because they're all free. Then I started browsing through the unknowns, and would frequently get books from the Top 100 Free category. Before I knew it, I had hundreds, and then thousands, of books. 

Over 2000 books on a portable device, and I've read only about 700 of them in the past three years, according to the number in my "ok/keepers" category and my "archived" section (top of the line at the time of purchase, my Kindle is now the-one-that-looks-like-a-DX-but-is-as-small-as-a-Paperwhite). The other 1000+ are in various categories such as "cookbooks," "how-to," and "misc. unknown," which is pretty much the same as saying I haven't gotten to them yet. And that's what prompted The Purge.

Even considering how fast I read, there is no way I have enough time to read all the books I've downloaded unless I completely stop getting any new books and concentrate solely on plowing through the list for the next few years. The rate of one book every couple days worked for awhile (I read most often at night, so there have been many times I've skipped a few sleeping hours to finish a book I liked), but the only reason I was able to keep up that pace was because a good number of those books were fluff, pure and simple. It was entertaining for awhile, but my brain got tired of not having to be involved. There were times when I'd find myself skimming through pages, knowing where the whole thing was leading and hoping for something surprising to catch my eye. I even caught myself finishing books and not remember the main characters' names five minutes later.

After recently reading a decently long streak of self-published authors whose books were of good quality, I decided I'm not wasting my time anymore on fluff. I've also gotten over my policy of always finishing a book, no matter how bad. It was really more of a guideline anyway. Nowadays, if a book doesn't have me interested by the third chapter, I assume it's never going to happen. It doesn't have to start with a bang, but if three chapters go by and I'm still not anxious to find out what happens next, then I stop and delete it.

My library, whether virtual or hold-'em-in-my-hands real books, is going to be full of the stories I enjoy enough to reread or hand down to my kids. I have books from my childhood (one of the times a hoarder mom was handy) that my children have enjoyed, and when I look through them I have very specific memories of how old I was or what I was doing when reading them for the first time. Harvey's Hideout, The Magic Spectacles or Miss Suzy might not be classics in the truest sense, but I remember every illustration with fondness.

What's your idea of a well-stocked library?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Free Book + Honest Review = Another Free Book

Author Stephen Fender is offering a great deal for those who have not yet read the first two of his military space science fiction novels in The Kestrel Saga. First, let me tell you why you want to take advantage of this (it's my blog, after all—not his) and then we'll get back to the Fabulous Mr. Fender.

FIrst of all, I can't stress the importance of leaving a review after finishing a book. Although technically, reviews are for the benefit of future readers, they also help indie authors in many ways.

Self-publishing gives a lot of freedom for authors in the form of creative rights, editing options, cover design, and more. However, the downside to having all that freedom comes in the form of self-promotion.

If you're an author who's been fortunate enough to work with a publishing house, the publishers do the promoting for you. I'm sure the author doesn't sit back and wait for the big bucks to come rolling in, but face it: the big-name publishers have connections and know how to use them. This adds up to lots of exposure in very visible places.

Indie authors not only write the book, but they scrape up the money for an editor. They are then expected to format the book themselves, and either design their own cover or hire an artist to design one. By the time the book is ready to launch, the hard part is just getting started: making people see it.

With thousands of new books released each month, I'm amazed anyone gets noticed amid the sheer volume. There are promoters out there who, for a price, will get your book synopsis (and perhaps an interview) posted on a variety of blogs. Good stuff, all of it, but once again, the average reader may still not run into these sites unless they're already immersed in all things bibliophilic. What does the average book purchaser look at?

Amazon. Smashwords. Goodreads. Nook.

Yep, they look at reviews. An indie author can be selling thousands of books, but if there are only a handful of reviews posted for each title, a purchaser may hesitate to try out an unfamiliar name.

So here's the fun deal (since, when all is said and done, Stephen Fender is a fun guy):

Contact Mr. Fender through his website, on his "About" page and he'll provide you with a copy of the first Kestrel book, The Army of Light, free of charge in exchange for an honest review. You can post your review on Amazon or Goodreads (or both), and he'll provide the second book, Icarus, with the same deal. Free book for honest review. If you haven't read either of them, you have the opportunity to read them at no cost to you. If you've read the first one and haven't left a review, do it. Then get the second one free and review it, too.

And that's not all! Stephen Fender will send you a primo set of Ginsu knives—

No, wait. He won't do that. BUT if you, the reader, post reviews for both books prior to December 15, he will provide you with an early (and—yes—FREE) copy of Second Earth, the third installment in the series. There is pretty much no way you're going to get the short end of this deal. I've read all three (multiple times, in fact) and I can tell you in all honesty that I'm already anxiously awaiting the next one, because I've enjoyed Shawn Kestrel's world so much. (See my earlier post that tells a little bit about Mr. Kestrel.)

Good deal? Good deal. Go get 'em.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Book Review: This Changes Everything

I was recently given a pre-pub e-copy of This Changes Everything (Volume 1 of The Spanners Series) by Sally Ember, Ed. D., in exchange for an honest review.

What if the world as we know it isn’t exactly as we’d always believed? What if we’re not the only sentient beings in the universe? What if the universe were not “only” a universe, but a “multi-verse” where many timelines occurred simultaneously?

The book’s title really says it all: this changes everything. Clara Branon is visited by the holograms of alien beings one night in her home, and her life from that point on is forever changed. She’s chosen as Chief Communicator, the contact person between the Many Worlds Collective and the Earthers, as they’re known by other species; it becomes her job to tell the rest of the world about the MWC and to help them accept it in order to transform our world into a better place for future generations.

I like the way opportunities for “re-sets” are available—how many of us would go back and change certain events if we could?—but are also shown as not always being the best option. Our life experiences shape us into who we are, after all, and if one or more of those is altered, we may not get what we want in the way we think we want it. I also appreciate the nods to authors like Douglas Adams, with the language-interpreting “fish” reminiscent of the Babel fish in his Hitchhiker’s Guide books.

Because Clara is writing/telling of the events occurring in multiple timelines, all the narrative is in the present tense, even for past or future events, which, as an editor, drove me crazy at first. Eventually, I got used to it, but it was occasionally a distraction…after all, past events require past tense verbs, unless the past is happening during the present or the future, in which case...oh, forget it. You’ll get used to it too, after a few pages.

Since the book is essentially a documentation of the initial visitation and transition time, there’s a lot of narrative with little dialogue, which slows down the pace in many spots. I’m a dialogue person, so the long stretches of complex details in the form of transcripts were a lot to absorb and at times felt like too much for one book. [Note: after contacting the author about this, I was informed that the manuscript had been revised and more dialogue had been added to the version that will be published in December.]

At times it felt like it had a definite political slant, with a lot of liberal push, demonizing those who are staunch in their religious or moral beliefs as inflexible and unenlightened, classifying the wealthy as greedy, etc.  I have to admit, I didn’t really care for that aspect of it, but that reflects my own personal beliefs and has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself. The novel also has a lot of Buddhist practices and teachings in it, including reincarnation (or ReInvolvement, as the MWC refers to it). I feel the need to mention these things because they’re so present within the book, and many readers prefer to be made aware of any controversial topics or religious leanings prior to reading.

There were parts that really tickled me, such as the explanation of crop circles: teenage alien graffiti, not much different than Earth teens taking a joyride and spray-painting the sides of bridges or boxcars, then racing back home before the authorities catch them.  A recounting of an exchange between Clara and her son, Zephyr, over speakerphone had me giggling out loud, because it reminded me so much of phone conversations with my own mother.

The writing is complex and done extremely well. I didn't see an editor listed, and I’m happy to say that Ms. Ember is excellent at self-editing. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling were non-issues, which was very refreshing in an indie book. There were times when I almost forgot I was reading a work of fiction and not a news account of real events, and I would consider that to be skilled writing indeed.

Because different book sites have different meanings to their ratings, I think of the star system as looking at a scale: did I enjoy more of it than not? Yes. Four stars. Did I like the overall content? Most of the time. Three stars. Was the writing of good quality? Oh, definitely yes. Five stars.

My overall rating: four of five stars.

Ms. Ember's book will be available for pre-orders next week via Smashwordsnook, iBooks and Kobo through December 19, with release date planned for sales December 20, 2013.