End of the Month Wrap-Up: July 2017!

I’ve developed a format for these posts: books read, words written/other writing goals accomplished, library trips, and so on.

This month that’s all out the window.

Yesterday I went running. I’ve been trying to get back into it this summer after about a year and a half away, with pretty good success.

Yesterday, just after turning around at the halfway point of my run, I wiped the fuck out.


My knees got trashed and I have a wicked little blood blister on one of my palms, but my reflexes did their job and protected my head from hitting the ground. After getting up and testing my joints for obvious injuries, I gave myself about three minutes of walking time before I started running again (more slowly and watching the pavement better) until I got home.

I’ve never fallen on a run as an adult. (I’m sure I fell running around as a kid plenty, but not since I’ve taken up running proper.) It was bound to happen eventually, right? The point is, I got back up and kept going.

That’s what this past month has been for my writing–me getting up from my fall, and going on.

Originally I had hoped to publish What We Need to Rebuild in the spring. Two deaths in the family and the resulting depression I sunk into prevented that. But in July, I started writing again on a new project. I finished my final edit on the WWNtR manuscript and commissioned my cover (more on that soon!); I’m gearing up for the marketing push surrounding the release; and I’m becoming more active on social media again to interact with both bookish friends and my fans.

This is me, getting back up.

(It turns out I jammed my right big toe in the fall, so running home on that before it puffed up probably wasn’t the best idea–but the swelling will go down, the bruises will heal, and I will run again. Maybe not tomorrow as I normally would, but soon.)

This Week, I Read… (2017 #28)

Dragon Seed Cover

#90 – Dragon Seed, by Pearl S. Buck

DNF @ page 112. I liked this better than I did last year’s The Good Earth; but I didn’t like it enough to finish it. The language was still plain, stiff, and formal, and while the characters were more like people and less like cardboard cutouts, the pacing of the plot was agonizingly slow. Just not a fan of Pearl Buck, I guess.

91 - The Poisonwood Bible

#91 – The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver

This work is by far the best I’ve ever read with multiple first-person narrators. The mother and her four daughters all display wildly different personalities and levels of education through word choice, incorrectly-used words and idiom, observations, and the priorities of their narrative. I never had any trouble distinguishing one character’s tone from another, which is the major failing of most similarly structured books.

I enjoyed it, but I feel like I might like it better on rereading. This tackles a lot of heavy topics–religion, political upheaval, disease, and death–through the lens of a single missionary’s family: how going to the Congo changes them, and how they change (or fail to change) the lives of the Congolese they touch. It’s dense with symbolism, and I’m sure I failed to pick up a lot of it on the first go-round. I’m betting I’ll find plenty of foreshadowing I missed as well.

Where the book falls apart for me is the pacing. It has a strong opening, a fantastic middle, and a weak, drawn-out denouement. I felt a little like when I first saw The Return of the King, when every time I thought the movie would be over, that this had to be the last scene, the screen brightened again and another one started. While the long ending did qualify the books for this challenge task (the story follows the daughters from childhood to late adulthood, not quite birth to death but close enough for me), I was left to wonder how much of it was really necessary to show how greatly the girls’ lives had been shaped by their experiences in Africa.

92 - Verity

#92 – Verity, by Claire Farrell

This took too long to get to anything interesting (like, you know, the werewolf part) and made me cringe too much along the way.

Perdita, our main character and narrator, has a personality that can best be described as “inconsistent.” She stands up for herself to her controlling father, only to let her absolute bitch of a best friend steamroll over her. She whines and moans about how unpopular she is, how much of a freak and a loser she is, but more guys than just the curse-besotted love interest hit on her when she goes to a party. She’s sheltered and fragile, but then she straight up kills an enemy werewolf with a giant stick.

I’m even more disappointed in this book because it could have been interesting. The curse Farrell cooked up to explain the whole soulmate angle of this actually works for me! The curse is what makes Perdita and Nathan feel better together than apart, and (to some degree at least, it’s not super clear) feel each other’s emotions to create a sort of forced intimacy. They like each other, they’re drawn to each other, but after the secret is revealed (waaaaay late in the story, bad pacing) they both know that it’s not genuine…yet that doesn’t mitigate the curse’s effects. So the book ends with them together, at least in the sense that they’re going to (try to) take things slow and actually get to know each other. Which I like.

Too bad I had to wade through all that stupid, melodramatic angst, all that mountain-out-of-a-molehill false drama to get to the mildly good part.

93 - Yoga

#93 – Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, by Erich Schiffmann

Despite the high rating I gave this, I’m actually divided on it. As a guide to the poses of yoga, it’s brilliant, with clear photographs of each pose, and for the more difficult ones, a breakdown of working up to the poses in easier stages. It’s going to be invaluable as a reference.

As a text explaining meditation, daily routine, and all the non-pose-related aspects of yoga, I found it incredibly wordy, repetitive, and preachy. I understand that the pose guides need to be complete for the reference aspect, so I don’t begrudge them being repetitive; but the rest of the text? If I ever see the phrase “relax with intensity” again, I might scream. Which is clearly not the point of yoga.

Eventually I realized the book was written in the style of a teacher giving a class–out loud. And since the point of yoga practice is to live in the moment, to free yourself from tension and worry, I get that. Spoken direction for yoga is and would logically be incredibly repetitive over the course of a session. But in book format, it becomes tedious. Yes, I remember you told me to concentrate on my breath, to observe the sensations of it but not to control it. You don’t need to tell me twenty times…in the book.

But I can’t truly criticize it for this style, because for some people, it would be far more accessible and easy to understand than a drier text that lays out the principles once and moves straight on to the poses. It just irked me.

Out and About: Northfield, MN

Sidewalk Poetry 1

I’d never been to Minnesota until recently, when my husband and I got on a plane to go to a wedding. I had no idea what to expect, but it wasn’t poetry stamped onto the sidewalks!

I didn’t have time to find all of them scattered across the downtown area, but I got to quite a few.

All the rooms at our inn had names, which of course charmed me straight out of the gate…

Reading Nook

Then I found a reading nook down the hall from our room. Win!

And when I had a little time, I went shopping. Content Books and The Sketchy Artist were both down the street, so I came home with a cookbook and some mini journals in my luggage that didn’t start the trip with me. Support independent bookstores! (And art stores!)

I had a great time, ate great food, and got to spend time with family. No writing time, but that’s why I’m glad to be home, too.

Bookish DIY: Rescuing Library Hardcovers

Hardcover - Before

I love library sales, and while the one at my local branch runs mostly on donations, library books removed from circulation end up there as well.

The stamped addresses on the inside covers or the edges of the paper don’t really bother me, nor do the bar code stickers.

But I abhor the plastic sleeves used to protect the book jackets.

The good thing is, I’ve discovered that you can remove them! Sometimes, anyway.

Before the book goes into circulation, its jacket is removed and encased in a paper-backed plastic sheet. The newly protected cover is then wrapped back around the book and secured.

Now, here’s where the sometimes part comes in.

All the covers are taped down, which is easy enough to handle (left). However, some of them may be glued down as well, along the edges of the front and back cover (right).

I did remove a glued-down cover, once, for a book I wanted to turn into a journal. Taking the cover off pulled most of the lining paper on the front and back covers with it.

So I don’t do that anymore! But I can show you how easy it is to remove the covers which are only taped down.

Hardcover - Tape Showing

There should be tape holding both the top and bottom of the plastic jacket to the book, both front and back. Either peel it up to release the jacket, or if it’s stubborn (especially on older books where the tape’s been on it for years) carefully slit the tape between the book cover and the jacket. The tape left on the book will be hidden by the jacket, once it’s back on.

Now, you’ve got a plastic-wrapped cover on your hands.

Hardcover - Loose Jacket

The protector isn’t fastened to the original jacket, only wrapped around it. If the adhesive holding the plastic to the paper backing isn’t strong, you can open the seam and lift the jacket out. Or, if that proves difficult, you can pull the jacket out from one end, like a limp onion sliding free of its fried, delicious casing. (Onion rings are a favorite of mine, but I hate it when the onion falls out!)

If the jacket has any library stickers on it, now would be the time to attempt to remove them: my branch sometimes puts genre stickers on the bottom of the spine, and those come off easily, but I’ve had zero luck getting the bar code stickers off.

Hardcover - After

Wrap the poor, nude book back up in the jacket, and you’re done!

This Week, I Read… (2017 #27)

85 - Wolves of the Calla

#85 – Wolves of the Calla, by Stephen King

The story is solid, the illustrations in this edition are gorgeous (and often a trifle unnerving), and I enjoyed the whole read.

Did it knock my socks off like Wizard and Glass did? No, no it didn’t.

Does it have one hell of a cliffhanger to keep me going to book 6? Yes, yes it does.

My major complaint about Wolves is the pacing. The characters remark that they’re going to a whole lot of trouble to prepare for “five minutes of blood and stupidity,” and they’re right–the month they spend in Calla Bryn Sturgis takes the first 600+ pages, and the “five minutes” comes only at the very, very end, with the tiny epilogue afterward to set up the cliffhanger. Now, I love the worldbuilding–the Calla definitely seems real, or at least as real as anything can seem in this series that abandoned coincidence several books ago–but Father Callahan’s backstory in the middle was a real slow point for me. I haven’t read ‘Salem’s Lot (though now I most assuredly will) so I didn’t already know Callahan from it, which made it harder for me to get invested in him. (Not like the thrill I got in W+G when I recognized Randall Flagg from The Stand, one of my all-time favorite books.)

So it’s not bad, not at all, but there’s a definite dip in quality from the previous book. Though, how could there not be?

86 - You Know Me Well

#86 – You Know Me Well, by Nina LaCour and David Levithan

This story scratches a lot of itches for me. It’s about facing changes. It’s about friendships of all kinds–the firmly entrenched, the slowly fading, and the possibly transient.

It’s about a bunch of teenagers who are hella queer and their lives aren’t terrible and only about tragedy, misery, and pain.

The world needs this book, and more like it. Happy queer kids, or at least queer kids who are only unhappy in the same ways everyone else is as a teenager–unsure of their place in the world as adults, under enormous pressure to figure out their whole lives right now.

I could relate to both of the protagonists easily–Kate for her crippling case of Imposter Syndrome, and Mark, because I too was once desperately in love with my best friend who had no chance of ever returning my feelings. Not that that’s not common, but in this case, it was really damn convincing, and I like the way it was handled in the end.

87 - More Than Music

#87 – More Than Music, by Elizabeth Briggs

I came across this last year when the second novel in Briggs’ Chasing the Dream series got recommended to me, and I saw the first novel was (at the time) being offered for free, so I picked it up. I can now delete this one and take More Than Comics off my to-read list, because Music didn’t impress me at all.

Maddie Taylor is the bland narrator who displays most of the qualities I’d expect from a typical YA heroine, despite this clearly being a New Adult work with college-age protagonists. She’s a self-proclaimed “geek” who’s clumsy, insecure, and down on herself about her looks. Yet she manages to capture the attention of a bad-boy up-and-coming rock star who’s obviously out of her league, because she only dates nice boys even though they don’t actually seem to interest her much.

I’m bored already. But wait, it gets worse!

The plot, once past the initial set-up, is predictable beyond belief. Maddie and Jared (the rock god) have an improbable moment of “connection” when she sneaks off at his party and ends up playing his guitar and singing one of his band’s songs. Then the band’s bassist quits, so Jared takes over her role so they can ask Maddie to take his place on guitar. “Just for the audition,” he asks. What audition? For a reality show that’s clearly a whole-band take on The Voice.

But when they show up to audition, what do you know? No changes to the band are allowed post-audition. (An incredibly sensible, obvious rule that I saw coming a mile away.) So Maddie takes the plunge and joins the band. (Duh.) They make it onto the show. (Duh.) There are a number of falsely tense moments when the reader is supposed to wonder if they’re going to survive elimination from week to week. (They always do.) And the whole time, absolutely everything about the band’s image, popularity, and Maddie’s own puny sense of self-worth are telling her not to get involved with Jared, because it’s just about the worst idea in the world, since she (and everyone else) thinks he’s a playboy.

So of course they hook up! There wouldn’t be a story if they didn’t! And what do you know, it’s a terrible idea and causes all sorts of problems (like both she and the reader could see it would) until somehow magically at the end, Jared turns out to be a great guy after all and declares his love on stage for everyone to see. And that makes it all okay, right?

I kept waiting for the story to surprise me somehow, to give me something beyond plodding to the next inevitable plot point, but it never did.

88 - Adam

#88 – Adam, by Chris Keniston

This romance was outside my usual tastes for a number of reasons, but in an interesting way. I’m no stranger to small-town romances or family-based romance series, and this is both, but with a hint of cowboy thrown in. Adam’s a veterinarian, not an actual cowboy, but who doesn’t love a man who loves animals?

And I’m no stranger to brides-on-the-run stories either. Meg ends up in Adam’s town when her car breaks down, and with no money and no place to go, she (of course) becomes a waitress. Yes, it’s clichéd, but Meg is well aware the whole time of how lucky she is that the townspeople are being kind and helping her out. It’s played straight, and her honest gratefulness goes a long way to making me less annoyed with the set-up.

The main issue, to me, was that the story felt rushed. This romance is much cleaner and more wholesome than most–both leads have the stray dirty thoughts to go with their obvious sparking chemistry–but the story arc ends with their second kiss and declarations of love after only having been on one proper date. It’s not the lack of sex itself that irks me, because the attraction between Adam and Meg was well-developed enough for a decent slow-burn-style story, but the fact that it couldn’t be a slow-burn because the book was too short to support it!

That being said, I did enjoy it, and I’ll put the next book in the series on my TBR to remind myself to pick it up later, when I’ve whittled down my stacks enough.

89 - Last Resort

#89 – Last Resort, by Jill Sanders

DNF @ 18%. I didn’t need longer than that to come to a conclusion about this book: it’s bad.

In fact, the quality of the prose is so awful it angered me. Among the flaws I noted were repetitive sentence construction, awkward similes, dangling modifiers, and unnecessary apostrophes. Did anyone edit this?

The icing on the cake was at the point I gave up, where Cassey (the MC) watched Luke (the love interest) do the same action twice in one page. Now, that’s not to say he did the thing twice–I assume he opened and walked through the gate to her patio once, and didn’t walk back out so he could do it again. No, she “watched” him open the page at the top of the page, then “watched” him do it again half the page down. Was he still doing it? Did it really take him that long?

And that’s another thing about the writing–it’s stuffed with filter words. Cassey knew things, and she watched things, and she heard things. That’s not to say these verbs never have their uses, but the reader had to observe Cassey observing everything else–nothing just happened. It’s tiring.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the 18% of the story I read was simply boring. The prologue was long and melodramatic. I assume it’s paid off later in the story, but at the moment, it’s just jarringly disconnected, which is why avoiding prologues is such a common piece of writing advice. Luke isn’t introduced until about 13% in, and when he is, he’s a cocky corporate bad guy who’s trying to get Cassey to sell her business. Okay, that could be the central conflict between them, and it’s a solid one, but when we switch to a narrative from his perspective, his thought process basically boils down to wanting to seduce her into selling. NO THANK YOU I’M DONE NOW. I could accept his unwillingness to take her refusal to sell at face value when it was purely a business matter, not a personal one–his job is to convince her, so even though no should signal the end of most conversations, he needs to be persistent. It’s unpleasant, but it’s not gross.

Seducing her into selling is gross. No matter what happens in the rest of the book, it can’t redeem Luke for me. He’s a sleazebag. So why bother reading it?

Bookish Pet Peeves: Bad Back-Cover Blurbs

BCB - At Home in Mitford

This is the back cover of Jan Karon’s At Home in Mitford.

It’s easy to feel at home in Mitford. In these high, green hills, the air is pure, the village is charming, and the people are generally lovable.

Yet, Father Tim, the bachelor rector, wants something more. Enter a dog the size of a sofa that moves in and won’t go away. Add an attractive neighbor who begins wearing a path through the hedge. Now, stir in a lovable but unloved boy, a mystifying jewel theft, and a secret that’s sixty years old.

Suddenly, Father Tim gets more than he bargained for. And readers get a rich, provincial comedy in which mysteries and miracles abound.

This, I would call a solid blurb. It sets the tone of the book, using words like charming, lovable, and provincial. It briefly lists the major elements of the book in a way (I’m assuming, this came from my TBR) is spoiler-free, leaving enough mystery to intrigue a potential buyer/reader.

And below the blurb, there is a single review line from Publisher’s Weekly. That’s fine. One is fine.

But I pulled some other books from my TBR shelf as well to illustrate the degeneration of back-cover blurbs from there.

BCB - The Mermaid Chair

Next, we have Sue Monk Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair. At the top of the back cover, there is a single-sentence blurb for the story:

A vividly imagined love story between a woman and a monk, a woman and her husband, and ultimately a woman and her own soul, The Mermaid Chair is a transcendent tale of Jessie Sullivan’s self-discovery.

This one is shorter, certainly, and in some ways it goes beyond hooking a reader with mystery to the point of deliberate vagueness. Is the woman in all three pairings the same woman? It sounds like it should be Jessie Sullivan, and it probably is, but I’m not positive.

Now the reviews below (seven altogether) do add some descriptive elements to broaden my understanding of the book, and they’re even helpfully denoted with bold type! So this back cover blurb annoys me, but I still brought the book home, right?

BCB - The Gift of Rain

This is Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain. It came home from a library sale with me despite its lack of any back cover blurb because the cover was pretty enough to make me pick it up and skim the flyleaf summary. (And I was specifically trying to buy fewer books by White Male Authors.)

But I hate when covers only list reviews. Don’t tell me what everyone else thought of it, let me get a glimpse of the story!

You’d think it couldn’t get any worse than that, right? Wrong!

BCB - The Unconsoled

Another back cover, full of glowing praise for Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, with no insight into the book’s story…

Spine - The Unconsoled

…and the book isn’t even actually The Remains of the Day, it’s The Unconsoled. (I do have a copy of Remains as well, I haven’t read either yet.) This marketing tactic boils down to “He’s super famous for this other book, so obviously you want this one too, just because of that, right?”

And to be fair, that works on some people, and they’re not even wrong to buy a beloved author’s brand-new (or older, lesser-known) works on the strength of their other novels. I do it–most of us do.

But I’ve never read any Ishiguro–again, I picked this up at a library sale for mere pennies because I was trying to broaden my horizons. I actually have no idea if this book is any good, and very little idea what it’s about.

All this was on my mind because I recently had to, for the third time, write my own back-cover blurb. It’s an entirely different beast than writing the story itself. How do you condense the story’s essence down to just a few hundred words? How do you choose which plot elements to reveal, and which can be “spoiled”? (Don’t do what Seveneves did and spoil the major plot twist of the last part of the book in the damn blurb!)

I’ve read countless how-to articles and followed a consensus of their guidelines, and I don’t feel like I’ve done too badly. But this is the last book in my trilogy, and as for spoilers, man, does it have some doozies! So I had to find a way to write around them without being overly vague, which was challenging. For help, I went looking through the back covers of my TBR books, which lead me to the discovery that most of them don’t have any. Review-only covers are either on the rise, or are simply more prevalent in the “literary”-type books I’ve been scooping up at secondhand shops and library sales.

Do review covers bother you as much as they do me, or do you care? What makes a good blurb for you?

Bookish DIY: Bookends From Tea Tins

Bookend - Earl Gray Tin    Bookend - Cardamom Tea Tin

Or whatever tins you like, really. If you don’t drink tea, there’s Pirouline or other cookie tins, and you can usually find a wide variety of tins at thrift stores.

What you will need:

  • tin(s) of choice with lids
  • plastic bag(s)
  • rice

Bookend - Materials

You can use whatever type of bag you have handy–I use the cheap bread bags that come with twist ties, because I bake a lot and zip-top bags that big are expensive! But those would be fine too (you might have to squash the zipper down to get the tin to close) or you could even use plastic shopping bags, though I’d check them for holes first, they’re easily damaged.

Also, you don’t have to use rice–dried beans would work well, too, or anything heavy and cheap. You could use sand or dirt or gravel, if you wanted to head outside and scoop some up–but I had a lot of rice on hand, and if it spills on my carpet, it won’t be as hard to clean up as dirt would be.

Bookend - Process

As for the actual DIY part, it could hardly be easier. Open the tin, insert plastic bag, and fill’er up. Seal the bag shut (knot it, or use a twist tie, or zip it), tuck the top down and put the lid on. You’re done!

Bookend - Irish Breakfast Tea Tin