MY JUNE, 2017 PICK FOR BEST PRODUCT

I want to recommend a free program called “Pocket.” Because it’s one of my favorites, ever.

https://getpocket.com/about

Why I love it:

You see something on-line you want to read later, and Pocket grabs it for you so you can read it anywhere: on your phone, tablet, PC, laptop. I tried to capture their icon, but couldn’t find a way to do it. It’s a white arrow on a red shield. All you have to do is click on that shield on your brower’s toolbar and the article you want to read later is saved.

  • It does NOT include all the sidebars, ads, and other extraneous stuff, just the article.
  • If you want to see the whole article, it puts the link up in the right-hand corner when you open the article. That way you can go and share it on places like Facebook. And read comments, because it strips them, too.
  • You can change some settings. My favorite is one that has a black background with a white font. This cuts way down on screen glare!
  • You can change the font size.
  • It has a long list of “recommended” articles—probably those that get the most clicks.
  • You can sit in a more comfortable chair to read longer pieces.
  • You can delete them, make them a favorite. or archive them.

My only problem with it is that I save way too many article to read later, and that cuts into my novel reading. But I am able to keep up with the news, save how-to-write-better posts, and find quirky things to share on Facebook and Twitter.

https://getpocket.com/about

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THE WRATH OF SHIVA By Susan Oleksiw REVIEW

THE WRATH OF SHIVA

By Susan Oleksiw

A fascinating read

First you have an amazingly described southern Indian setting,. Then you have fascinating characters from another culture, so well-drawn you feel they are real. And of course you have twisty plot to keep you turning those pages.

There’s the missing cousin. The servant who goes into trances. The money lender. And the demanding tour guide, among others. But best of all are the protagonist, Anita Ray, and her Auntie Meena.

This is the third novel I’ve read by Susan Olesksiw, and they have all been excellent. Highly recommended.

BOOKS READ, SEPTEMBER, 2016

I’ve decided to list the books I’ve read in the last month on the first Wednesday of every month with some thoughts about each one. My favorite of the month will be listed first in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing. The rest are in no particular order. Last month I said I would only list those that I consider to be at least worth four stars on Amazon. The vast majority of books I read rate that many stars because I look for authors I like already, best-selling authors, and/or for plot lines given in descriptions and reviews that interest me.

*****

What a mixed bag this month. Two books with “girl” in the titles, and I’ve already read two before with “girl” in the title, and have one more on my Kindle. I hope we’ve come to the end of that trend. A couple of speculative books that didn’t quite do it for me, and a couple with rather poor endings. Yet there were none I could say I detested. Somewhat disappointed is a better way to put it. But I broke my 4-5 star rule—a couple of these would only earn 3 stars from me.

When Krishna Calls by Susan Oleksiw

First I have to say, the setting, Kerala, in Southern India, is so well-drawn, I felt as if I were there.

The main character, photographer Anita Ray, half-American, half-Indian, is engaging and determined.

The story begins with a mother named Nisha leaving her daughter in the back courtyard of the hotel Anita and her Auntie Meema run. Anita decides to hide the child until she learns more about what’s going on. The police arrive and tell her the child’s father has been murdered, and they suspect the child’s mother, who has disappeared. Nisha worked part-time at the hotel, and Anita does not believe she killed her husband. So she begins to investigate.

This story has many twists and turns and kept me flipping the pages. It also had one of the best, most satisfying endings I’ve ever read. Review posted to Amazon and Goodreads. Highly recommended.

when-khrishna-callsLittle Nothing by Marisa Silver

First of all, this book is categorized as “magical realism.” Which means there is magic involved, and that it’s supposed to seem real, I guess. My problem is that this kind of story has never seemed real. I can never put away my suspension of disbelief, no matter how hard I try. But every once in a while, I try again.

This book is a fabulous one in so many ways. If you enjoy magical realism, I think you’ll really like it. But if you’re skeptical, you’ll have some trouble understanding the main character because the plot sort of overtakes her characterization. I got more of her mother’s and potential lover’s feelings than I did hers. And the ending was too vague for me, so that was a disappointment. The main takeaway I need to give you is that I wanted to finish this book—it has so many good points: The writing, the setting, some of the characters, and the overall plot.
So this is one of the most conflicted reviews I’ve ever written. Perhaps I should give up on speculative fiction. But I keep hoping.

Never Con a Corgi by Edie Clair

I wanted to like this book more than I did. It has a lot of positive things going for it—humor, great characters, a mystery. But from the title, I expected a lot more about the dog and how it helped solve the murder. Actually, the daughter of the main character did most of that work. That said, I think a lot of people would enjoy this light read.

5,000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox

This was short. It could have been shorter. But at last I found out how so many writers write so many words and publish so much every year. You cannot type 5,000 words in an hour, and even a couple of thousand. So, what’s the secret? Dictation.

The Promise by Robert Crais

The book confused me because it’s billed as an Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novel, but neither character was the major player here. Scott and his K-9 were really he main characters. That wasn’t a bad thing, but overall, considering how huge Crais’s reputation is, I was disappointed in this novel. Maybe better to read an earlier one or two. PS: One of the ugliest covers I’ve ever seen.

Twisted Threads by Lea Wait

I was enjoying this because I love to do needlepoint and even have a very old sampler done by a relative handed down from others. But I have no idea how the amateur sleuth figured out who dun it. The threads were not joined together to show us her thought process. She talked to one person, then all of a sudden she’s off to see another, then another with no internal thoughts. So, you might like to read this because it’s fun otherwise. Just be warned about the improbable ending.

The Girl Before by JP Delany

So unusual and intriguing. Two female points of view with alternating chapters, which works well. Unfortunately told in present tense. Often unnoticeable, but that device sometimes jerks me out of a story whereas using past tense never does. Anyway, both women get to live in an award-winning house that is run entirely by computers. The architect/owner is very strange. The women have had horrifying experiences before moving in and so are vulnerable. All three facts lead to a fascinating story. I’d give it five stars except for some faddish writing bits and the overall improbability.

The Third Girl by Nell Godden

It is hard to review this book. I liked quite a lot about it, but it tried to be both suspense and cozy at the same time, skipping around rather erratically. Also, the main character, a young woman, knowing there’s a killer of young women on the loose, goes off on walks and hikes by herself in a place she just moved to a few days before after buying, on-line, property in France. And she hardly knows any French. In the end she escapes the killer, of course, but we never see how that happens on the page—we’re told about it the next day when she describes it. There are three murders mentioned, but only two solved; the one not solved didn’t even need to be in the book. A lot of improbable stuff. On the other hand, I loved the setting, the main character was interesting, as were some of the other characters, and I finished it. Always a good sign.

The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag

Unusual, convoluted read. Overall I liked it, although much was improbable, and lately I’m seeing a lot of books with amazing coincidences, even in ones when the detective says, “There is no such thing as coincidences,” or “I don’t believe in coincidences.” Of course there are coincidences—I’ve run into many extraordinary and many minor ones in my lifetime. But I don’t think more than one in a novel is a good idea. This novel had more than one or two

Black Coffee (anthology) edited by Andrew McRae

Okay, this isn’t fair. I have a story in this one. The stories are supposed to be noir, but not all of them are, in my opinion (mine definitely is, so you’re warned). But that’s okay. Lots of good ones, regardless of genre. At least take a peek at the description on-line and see if you’d think you’d like it.

The Children of Men by P. D. James

I was surprised to start reading this one because I didn’t read the description or any of the reviews. It was recommended by someone in the Short Mystery Fiction Society, so I grabbed it. And found out it was science fiction, not a mystery! It was good—had a mystery or two in it, of course, but I was kind of disappointed.

Miracle Cure by Harlan Cobern

I am a huge fan of Mr. Coben, and even saw a talk he gave at a conference and had him sign his break-out novel, Tell No One, for me there. The funny thing is that he himself recommends that you not read this book. It was an early book, written in his twenties and a bit heavy-handed about the AIDS epidemic going on then and how gays were treated. So, if you’re not already a fan, I’d take his recommendation and not read this although it kept me reading. Pick up Tell No One instead. It was great.

And that’s it for last month. See you next time. What’s the favorite book you read in September, 2016?

 

 

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BOOKS READ, AUGUST, 2016

I’ve decided to list the books I’ve read in the last month on the first Wednesday of every month with some thoughts about each one. My favorite of the month will be listed first in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing. The rest are in no particular order. I will only list those that I consider to be at least worth four stars on Amazon. The vast majority of books I read rate at least that many stars because I look for authors I like already, and/or for plot lines given in descriptions and reviews that interest me. I’ve noted when I’ve done full reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

If Morning Ever Comes by Anne Tyler

Okay, I’m prejudiced. Anne Tyler is one of my top five favorite authors. This is the first book she had published at the age of twenty-two! When I found this out, I was, of course, very jealous. It’s the story, told in the male viewpoint, of Ben Joe and his strange, dysfunctional but funny family. Mostly, it’s about love—all kinds of love. What’s not to love about that?

A Time of Torment, by John Connolly

Five star review up on Amazon and Goodreads. This is a Carlie Parker series thriller, the first in the series I’ve read. It involved a cult which I admit always fascinates me, and some very interesting characters. Very hard to put down.

So Many Steps to Death by Agatha Christi

I enjoyed this because it was an attempt by Ms. Christi to do a spy novel. Most reviews I’ve read put it down somewhat for that. I guess their expectations weren’t met. But if you like something different and love good plotting, good characters, and good writing, this is a very enjoyable book to read.

Dying in Style by Elaine Viets (a Josie Marcus Mystery Shopper #1)

This is the first in the Dead-End Jobs series by Elaine Viets. You can always count on some humor with stories by Ms. Viets. Josie Marcus is a mystery shopper. I knew this when I ordered the book, and I bought it because I wondered about how the whole mystery shopping thing worked. Although the plot is pretty improbable, this was a quick, fun read.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This is one of those books that I’ll never forget. It’s the story of two sisters during WWII in France. One cautious; one impetuous, filled with heartbreak and suspense. I love stories where I learn something new, especially when there is excellent writing, as is the case here. Highly recommended.

The Limping Dog by J.R. Lindermuth

Another five-star review up on Amazon and Goodreads for this one. See my review on my blog: http://www.janchristensen.com/review-the-limping-dog-by-john-lindermuth/

New England (good start!). A sailboat washes ashore. Gavin Cutter, a local artist, rushes aboard to help. But the only living thing he finds is a limping dog. Isn’t that a great opening? I thought so.

The Last Mile by David Baldacci (Amos Decker, #2)

Another suspense novel where I learned something new, this time about a condition of total recall called hyperthymesia. Amos Decker has it, and it can be both helpful and annoying. Melvin Mars, awaiting execution in Texas for killing his parents, is saved by a man confessing to the murders. But did the confessor really do it? Many twists and turns in typical Baldacci fashion and hard to put down.

My Sister, My Love, by Joyce Carol Oates

And here’s an author I sometimes like okay, sometimes don’t appreciate at all. But I am very glad I read My Sister, My Love. It was just fascinating in so many ways. Very long, detailed, but the story pulls you in. It’s based on the JonBennet Ramsey case, but the little girl is an ice skater, not a model. Another book told in the male point of view by a female author, it’s of course exceedingly well-done. Highly recommended for people who love long, intricate novels.

Broken Harbor by Tana French (Dublin Murder Squad #4)

Although I figured out what happened early on, this story pulled me in, and I had to finish it to see if I got it right. I did, but there was one more twist. You actually get two stories for one, and the writing is so good, nothing is confusing. Briefly, there’s a wonderful setting where a great detective is trying to figure out who killed two children, ages four and six, their father, and stabbed their mother who lived but remains unconscious for several days. I need to read the others in this series soon.

And that’s it for last month. See you next time. What’s the favorite book you read in August, 2016?

REVIEW: THE LIMPING DOG BY JOHN LINDERMUTH

Limping Dog LindermuthNew England. A sailboat washes ashore. Gavin Cutter, a local artiest, rushes aboard to help. But the only living thing he finds is a limping dog. There is no discernible damage, and no obvious reason for the boat being abandoned. A strange-appearing woman who was walking by with her dog when the ship ran aground disappears. Who was she? No one can find her.
Gavin recuses the limping dog, and the mystery of the ship’s missing passengers goes unanswered.
Then an insurance investigator shows up, asking questions, seemingly suspicious of Gavin Cutter. A woman insists Gavin take some money for rescuing the limping dog, but he refuses.
When even more questions are asked about the sailboat, Gavin becomes involved in getting some answers.
This story has great characters and a fascinating plot. The setting is picturesque and well-drawn, too. What more can you ask for? It definitely gets five stars from me.

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REVIEW: THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP

SUBTITLED
THE JAPANESE ART OF DECLUTTERING AND ORGANIZING
BY
MARIE KONDO

This is a best-selling book about getting rid of all your clutter in one day.

For me, it was a mixed bag of good advice combined with dubious advice plus cultural differences which have made other reviewers either totally befuddled or quite angry.

At least it’s short. But it could have been shorter.

The major premise is to start with your clothing, throw everything all on the floor, then pick up each piece and decide whether it brings you joy or not. If it does, you get to keep it. If not, you have to toss it or give it away. And what you keep has to be folded just so—not many things are hung.

After you do the clothing, Ms. Kondo walks you through the rest of the items in your household, insisting on a certain order of going through them.

Big hole there—the kitchen. She mentions kitchen items maybe twice. And how much joy does that measuring cup bring you? If none, I guess you have to get rid of it. Now, the meat cleaver . . . Seriously, if you include decluttering the kitchen, I don’t see any way most people could declutter their whole house in one day.

Ms. Kondo is obviously single and lives alone in a rather small space. Her advice would work well for others in the same circumstances, but for families, not so much.

All that said, though, the basic premise of taking each item in your hand and deciding if you love it (I’d add or really need and use it), then putting it away carefully in its permanent home and getting rid of all the rest, is sound.

Every so often there’s a mention of inanimate objects having feelings and how you should treat them. This becomes more pronounced as you continue reading. You should greet the house when you enter. You should empty your purse every evening and put things away in a certain place you have for them. You should say good-bye to and thank the clothing and other items you are getting rid of. And so on. From what I can determine on-line, this is a common Shinto (Japanese religious) practice. Hey, maybe it works!

Perhaps the most dangerous piece of advice was to get rid of most all the papers in your house. This can be carried too far. I tend to probably save more than I really need to, but that’s better than throwing out something you desperately need later. She says to save those that do need to be saved, and those that need attention, then a nebulous category where you save some for a while. So, I’d be extra careful with this advice.

And maybe the most annoying advice was to get rid of books by throwing them in a pile on the floor and sorting through then, then tearing out any pages that you want to keep (!), and storing the few remaining books in a bookcase (small, I assume) in your closet. Yes, you read that right—in your closet. The author entirely misses the point that shelves filled with books can bring people joy.

Excuse me while I go put this funny little book away in one of the big bookcases in my home office alongside the other books I’ve collected and annotated about personal organization and time management. It’s not that I love the book, but I’m keeping it for when I need to shake my head to exercise my neck.

Anyone else read it? What do you think after reading my review?

ALICE IN WONDERLAND’S ANNIVERSARY

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

This year marks the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the first printing of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderful, commonly referred to as Alice in Wonderland.

“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”

The late rabbitWhen I was about five, my mother read me both the Wonderland book and the Looking-Glass one, and I loved them so much, I begged her to read them over and over again.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

But until this year, I never checked into the background of how the Wonderland book came to be written. I thought I’d share some of the interesting facts I found out about the author and the book here.

“Have I gone mad?”
“I’m afraid so, but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”

Mad Tea PartyFirst, probably a lot of people know that Lewis Carroll is a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, but I didn’t. Or that he based a lot of his characters on real people and places, even images. Because he stuttered, he said his last name Dodo-Dodgson, and thus the dodo bird in the book was created. The rabbit hole was probably a symbol for the stairs, called the rabbit hole, in the back of the main hall in Christ Church where Mr. Dodgson was a mathematician.

“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”

Just AliceMr. Dodgson first told many of Alice’s adventures to three little girls on a boat ride with their father, Henry Liddell. Lorina Charlotte, aged thirteen at the time, Alice Pleasance, aged ten, and Edith Mary, aged eight. They loved the stories so much, he later wrote them down, expanded on them, did his own illustrations, but later hired an illustrator, John Tenniel. The first draft was 15,500 words, but then he added more material such as the Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter tea party (one of my favorite scenes) and it became 27,500 words.

“Curiouser and curiouser!”
“Off with their heads!”

Red QueenThe author had a rare neurological disorder that causes hallucinations and affects the size of visual objects, which can make the patient feel bigger or smaller than he is. This of course became a major part of the book. The disease is now often called the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

I have to say that Mr. Dodson’s life was almost as fascinating as his stories. Happy Anniversary, Alice!

As the Cheshire Cat said, “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality.” And now you know why I love to read and write. What is your favorite book? What was the first book you remember being read to you or that you read yourself?

PRESENT TENSE MAKES ME TENSE

Out of the last four or five books I’ve read, three were written in present tense. I don’t know if these books were classified as literary fiction, but one was definitely a mystery. I picked them up because the premises intrigued me, and they had a lot of good reviews. I rarely check the Look Inside feature on Amazon, depending more on word of mouth and reviews to pick what I’ll buy next. But after this experience, I will check inside every single time Look Inside is available.

It was a shock when I started reading each new story to find it was written in present tense. My first thought when that happens is, I don’t like present tense. Why not? Mainly because I’m not used to it. I’m reading, not listening to someone tell a story, and usually, writers write fiction in past tense. Also, there’s the pretension factor. Used to be only literary works ever used present tense. Now they’re used in some of the mysteries I read. I’ve heard it’s to help the reader get into the story more. Doesn’t work for me. And when I put the book down for a while and then go back to it, that present tense jars me every time. It often also jars me at the beginning of each new chapter for some reason.

The current book I’m reading has immediately disappointed me, as did the others written in present tense when I first started them. The author is going to have to work harder to make me like her book. And she’d better not slip and suddenly write in past tense for a few paragraphs. (Haven’t we all seen that?)

But wait, there’s more. This book started off in present tense. Very quickly, the character is remembering something in the past, so the tense switches to past. But it’s not obvious at first that the person is thinking of the past, so as a reader, I thought the author made a mistake. It does make sense to go to past tense when a character is remembering something. But now I was even more annoyed. I was annoyed when I figured out that the book was going to be in present tense. Then I was annoyed when I thought the author switched to past tense by mistake. Then I was annoyed at the change not being well set-up.

All within about three pages.

Are you a writer? Please do not try this at home. Or anywhere. Especially if you don’t have a stable of good editors to look out for the pitfalls. This was published by a big NY publisher, so it was edited several times, I’m sure. And I’m also sure the editors thought this was just dandy.

I carried on reading because the premise was still good.

Then this book got even stranger. The second chapter switched point of view and to past tense. And then, and then, when we went back to the first character’s POV, it was in past tense.

I have whiplash. Excuse me while I go get my neck brace. And maybe a new book to read.