Saturday, December 1, 2018

Five Books I Read in 2018—and Recommend

It’s time for me to list five books I loved reading this year, that were published in 2018 or 2017. As always, I leave off the big prize-winners and mega-bestsellers—the titles you’ve read about ten times in ten “top ten books” lists.

I will give a quick shout-out to Less, a quiet, lovely novel I adored, that is still not much heard of, although it won the freaking Pulitzer Prize! Anyway, it is a must-read, especially for writers of a certain age, like me.

So...On to my "top five" list for 2018, in no particular order:

The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson (2018) Though it isn’t a comedy per se, I did find myself nodding and smiling quite a bit during the time I spent reading The Bookshop of Yesterdays—time that went by far too fast. Though it takes place in my old hometown of Los Angeles (and environs), the book is truly set in an independent bookstore, and in the world of bookselling, among both writers and readers. So, yeah, what’s not to like? But this is no simple frolic through the shelves, with the author merely listing book titles like a name dropper at a Hollywood party; this book is a game, a puzzle, a literary journey through the life of a family and a literary community, and the story of a young woman rather belatedly coming of age, by discovering who she is, and what matters most to her.

Pursuit by Indy Quillen (2017) Every now and then you discover a character in a book who you wish was a real person—and your friend, or mentor—so you could go visit and learn from them. Such a character is Indy Quillen’s Fox Walker. A Native American tracker, Walker is completely of this modern world (he works for both police and federal agencies, after all) and yet, somehow, is not truly living in it. His penchant for wearing moccasins and deer-hide clothing is just the outer trappings of his deep-seated difference—his soul resides on another plane, one peopled by the spirits of the trees of the forest, the creatures who call the mountains home, and the earth itself. Two other equally fascinating characters come along (you’d better start with the first Fox Walker book, Tracker), but to tell you any more about them would ruin the exciting, wide-ranging, edge-of-your-seat journey.

First Corpse: the Appetizer by Carie Toler (2018) Sometimes you want to choose something that is just fun from the menu, and this light but suspenseful rom-com, set in “the city by the bay” is the perfect choice. Celebrity foodie Layne Stevens is a heroine some of us gals will relate to, many will want to become, and every man—and a lot of women!—will dream of meeting. Even though it starts off with a dead body (of course) and is filled with intrigue, this book will satisfy your hunger for a great fireside read, and there are some insightful ideas about diet and health for dessert. I predict you’ll savor every delicious bite, but you might want to keep some chocolate nearby to handle the cravings.

The Space Between
by Dete Meserve (2018) As my readers know, I adored this author’s debut novel, Good Sam and her follow-up, Perfectly Good Crime. Also set largely in Los Angeles, in a similarly affluent neighborhood as those featured in her previous books, The Space Between is a wholly different animal. One could categorize it as a mystery thriller, or even as literary fiction, but neither of those genres would come close to explaining this compelling contemporary story. The book’s protagonist is a respected astronomer, mother of a teenaged son, and a wife—in that order. What happens when her restauranteur husband goes missing rearranges every priority in her world and soon changes everything in her life.

Vita Aeterna by Jay Allan Storey (2018) I didn’t realize until I got to number five on the list that the first four authors were all women. Well, sorry to those who like consistency, because slot #5 belongs to Jay Allen Storey. I discovered this book through one of those services that sends you the free or bargain Kindle books for the day, and boy am I glad I did. I started reading it with a bit of trepidation, since most sci-fi—especially the dystopian stuff—is so hackneyed. But a skateboarding teenage protagonist in that bleak setting was irresistible, and off we went. So glad I took a chance on it. With its true-to-life characters and intricate cyber-details, this all-too-believeable, I-hope-it-isn’t-really-futuristic adventure is well worth the ride.

I am linking to the Kindle editions of all of these books, to make an electronic purchase even easier...I hope you will support these fine writers and their publishers. (NOTE: a couple of these books are even available for free as ebooks with Kindle Unlimited, if you have that service.)

Enjoy the great reads, and I trust you will enjoy your holidays, too...
hasta pronto!

Sunday, November 18, 2018

My post in O.C. Writers blog

Click here to see a post I did for the new "Ask An Editor" column that will be a recurring gig on the O.C. Writers network blog. It might seem kind of familiar to readers of my blog, as it is a reworked post from earlier this year, but it never hurts to hear writing advice again.
What can I say, the holdays are approaching fast and I am busy with lots of work and some family stuff and even a bit of fun...
I'll be back soon with Five Books I Recommend from 2018...
hasta pronto!

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Books, books, and more books

Not sure what happened to September. I usually post at least monthly, but last month was so full of events and classes I was teaching and then there was the fabulous SCWC conference in Irvine. I was thrilled that one of my friends and clients (Jasmin Iolani Hakes) won the fiction award for an excerpt from her Work-in-Progress, Hula. You will be hearing from Jasmin very soon, I have no doubt. As usual the conference was a great time for networking, meeting old and new friends—authors, editors, and agents.
           Something else fun that happened in September—I got certified as a SCUBA diver! Now, if I need to, I can strap on a tank and dive under my boat, or see that our anchor is well stuck, or explore a reef without having to come up for air. Very exciting to see a whole new underwater world. After all, most of the world is covered with water, and at the rate the climate is causing the ocean waters to rise, it’s going to be even more watery pretty soon.

          Anyway, here we are in October—which means that even in So Cal, autumn is here and there will be rain and cold someday—a great time to cuddle up with a good book. I have a stack of books I’m reading for work (evaluating and content editing for author clients, which is one of the things I do as an editor). Luckily, I have very talented clients, so my reading stack is always full of an electric mixture of mysteries, memoirs, business books, and recently even a dating book for people over 50. Check out their Facebook page here.
          I do keep another stack of books to read just for pleasure, too. A couple I loved recently were: The Wild Trees by Richard Preston, a nonfiction book that reminded me of how fun a great nonfiction book can be. Speaking of non fiction brilliance, I really enjoyed reading Girl Boner: The Good Girl's Guide to Sexual Empowerment by August McLaughlin. I thought I knew a lot about sex and sexuality, but I definitely learned a thing or two. I love how the book is written so inclusively, too, so it doesn't exclude any gender, outlook or sexual choice. It would be a great gift—seriously, it’s a book that mature teenage girls could appreciate and women of absolutely any age could, too.
         I like to read well-reviewed YA books, sometimes, and the latest stand out was The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. What an eye opener! The story is literally “ripped from the headlines” about a police shooting of an innocent young black man, told from the POV of the young girl who was in the car with him. Apparently, there’s a movie in the works. Big surprise, there.
         My fave novel last month was The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson. It’s everything I like in a book—books, intrigue, love, cool characters, family drama, and real places. In this case Los Angeles, my old hometown. That made it even more fun. I also enjoyed The House of Broken Angels by Luis Urrea, though it isn’t my favorite of his wonderful books.
         Anyway, it's back to work now, I'm line-editing a book set in Ancient Egypt. Lucky me—I really love what I do!  I get to learn and explore so many ways of living and live so many lives through books. 
         What have you read lately that you loved? I’d love to hear about it.
         Hasta pronto!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Book Openings, and a "Cool" Book Review

Every now and then, you read a novel and it reminds you of why you fell in love with literature, and why you still think that reading and writing can save us, unite us, heal us. Such a novel is My Last Continent by Midge Raymond. It's about a strong woman who already loves two things very deeply, and then falls in love for the first time with a person.
          Much has been written about this justly-acclaimed book—about how Raymond brings to life the loveable endangered penguins and the starkly beautiful threatened continent itself—that I’ll simply say that I feel like I lived through this adventure and barely escaped the shipwreck myself. I read far into the wee hours of the morning (fair warning to future readers) and even in the record-breaking heat of this August in So Cal, I read the final chapters with a shiver or two, and more than one tear.
          Raymond opens the book with the word “Afterwards” and the first lines put us right into Antarctica today; our narrator notices that the tourists waddling up from the shore to the penguin colonies are swaddled so that “these visitors—stuffed into oversize puffy red parkas—walk like the penguins themselves.” Moments later we learn about the shipwreck of the Australis, and we are hooked.

Having lived aboard a boat for most of my last thirty years, I can attest to how well the author captured being at sea for long periods, what it's like to be in a small inflatable dinghy in the dark/cold, and how difficult small boats are to control in choppy water. Luckily I've never been in (or on) such a cold ocean—reading about it was chilling enough...
Openings are notoriously difficult, and only a few writers are able to make page one look easy. Every book has its own, perfect beginning—it is the author’s responsibility (and sometimes the editor’s job) to find it.
          You all know I love reading memoirs, and that traveling on land and sea in Baja California was a defining part of my life. Here are the opening paragraphs to two excellent, and very different, Baja memoirs:
From Almost An Island by Bruce Berger: “Looking back on a three-decade obsession with Baja California, I see that I have been caught by a cul-de-sac. Longer than Florida, longer than Italy, Baja California is an eight hundred-mile deadend. To the west, the Pacific Ocean stretches a third of the globe's circumference before striking another continent. To the east lies the Gulf of California—more romantically known, particularly to the travel industry, as the Sea of Cortez. A finger of the Pacific, the Gulf is a peninsula of water to complement the one of land.”
From Miraculous Air by C.M. Mayo: “The first airplane arrived at San José del Cabo in 1931. The people couldn't believe it, that this thing could stay up above the earth, swoop over them without falling. The pilot's surname was Flores, but no one remembers his first name.
       It is the town historian, Don Fernando Cota, who is telling me this story. It is late October, more than sixty years later. Most of the people who were there that day are dead.”

          One excerpt is a bit shorter than the other, but that is the least of their differences. Each establishes a clear tone and a unique voice, but both make me want to read more. I bet you all have one or more favorite opening line(s) to a book—please share them with us below.

Hasta pronto!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

How Editing Works—And, Yes, it Does Work!

This post was written with my friend/client and guest blogger Jeanine Kitchel, author of the new “narco lit” crime novel, Wheels Up—A Novel of Drugs, Cartels and Survival (May 2018). I’ll let Jeanine go first:
     “For me, writing fiction did not come easy. With a background in journalism, my early attempts to create fiction contained lengthy back stories and copious blocks of information. That style may have worked several decades ago when Michener was king, but didn’t cut it now.
     Early on I fell into my old habit of researching, my comfortable companion. My initial efforts burgeoned into a whopper of a book, well over 93,000 words. It had taken me years to write and re-write my beginning chapters. I knew something wasn’t quite right but couldn’t put my finger on it, nor could my writing group or my Beta readers.
    Enter Jennifer Silva Redmond. Before I turned over the manuscript, she explained that her first edit, called a content edit, was when the editor basically checks out the bones of a writer’s work. When she got back to me, I was devastated by her initial advice—make huge cuts, especially at the beginning. I’d wanted someone to come in with a magic wand and divine where the structure of the story lay, and Jennifer did that. Little did I know that the cutting would be done by hatchet!
    For two days, I sulked. After a sleepless night or two, I digested Jennifer’s suggestions—then went to work. I xeroxed her six pages of comments and that became my Bible. I started to cut, paste, and scrap text. It took me three weeks.
     Jennifer suggested a second content edit. I happily complied. She came  back to me with more suggested cuts, now using a scalpel. By this time I was getting the hang of it. Her edits helped me to streamline the book—made it punchier, edgier, a faster-moving story.
    The final thrust came with the line edit, where Jennifer worked pockets of words into a cleaner, more readable prose. I felt good—really good—about the finished product. It was down to under 73,000 words. We’d cut over 20,000 words. And I didn’t miss those words at all.” 

Thanks, Jeanine!
And, just so you readers know that all that work was worth it, the first of her book's glowing reviews mentioned the “immediately hooked reader” and said that Wheels Up has “enough adventure packed into its fast-moving pages to satisfy the most ravenous armchair thrill-seeker. The book begins with a drug-loaded airplane crash into the jungle and never relinquishes its momentum after that.” The review closes with: “Ms. Kitchel gives the avid reader no further chance to breathe as she narrows her exciting plot down to its final, deadly confrontation.”
    Another recent review called Wheels Up “a fast and fun read, reminiscent of sunny South Florida crime novels…It’s not a lightweight story by any means, but there’s a breeziness mixed with intrigue that makes a perfect summer beach read. All in all, Wheels Up is an expertly crafted work of crime fiction—fast-paced when it needs to be, with gripping detail about the Mexican drug trade, and well-drawn characters to match.”
    I don’t think those comments about timing and pace would have been quite so complimentary if Jeanine hadn’t gone through the editing process, been able to hear my criticism (and praise) clearly, and been willing do the hard work to cut the book, in order to reveal the exciting story at its core.
    So, editing is really worth the time and money—because it works.
    hasta pronto!