January 30, 2013

Beyond the Shelf - The Writer at Work

Where to go? The Writer at Work

What's it all about? The Writer at Work was created to highlight the joys and challenges faced by creative people everywhere through the eyes of The Writer.

Who should check it out? Once again this one's for my fellow wordsmiths.

Time well spent? If you love writing. If you love comics. If you love the combination of both, then this is the place to be and get that smile back on your face (which has been wiped away by being hit by a cinder, errr, writer's block).

January 29, 2013

Quote Garden - Keep me company!

It is both relaxing and invigorating to occasionally set aside the worries of life, seek the company of a friendly book ... from the reading of 'good books' there comes a richness of life that can be obtained in no other way.
Gordon B. Hinckley

A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort. A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book, you may have your question answered. Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people - people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.
E.B. White

If books are not good company, where shall I find it?
Mark Twain

Books can be possessive, can't they? You're walking around in a bookstore and a certain one will jump out at you, like it had moved there on its own, just to get your attention. Sometimes what's inside will change your life, but sometimes you don't even have to read it. Sometimes it's a comfort just to have a book around. Many of these books haven't even had their spines cracked. 'Why do you buy books you don't even read?' our daughter asks us. That's like asking someone who lives alone why they bought a cat. For company, of course.
Sarah Addison Allen

So I kept reading, just to stay alive. In fact, I'd read two or three books at the same time, so I wouldn't finish one without being in the middle of another -- anything to stop me from falling into the big, gaping void. You see, books fill the empty spaces. If I'm waiting for a bus, or am eating alone, I can always rely on a book to keep me company. Sometimes I think I like them even more than people. People will let you down in life. They'll disappoint you and hurt you and betray you. But not books. They're better than life.
Marc Acito

January 28, 2013

A Writer's Life - Where do you get your ideas from?

I guess this is one of the most common questions writers are being asked. And the usual answer is that we just don't know. I realize this sounds slightly pretentious, but it's true. Ideas just happen to us. At any time. In any place. Are we finding ideas or are they finding us? Does it really matter as long as we meet at the writing desk?

Copyright by Cayusa

Neil Gaiman once wrote a fantastic blog post about this, where he says, "You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it." But no matter how weird or deep or intriguing or bland any author's explanation on idea-gathering may be, what it all boils down to, and what Gaiman put quite nicely when he said, "I make them up. Out of my head." is probably as close to the truth as you can get.

Basically it's just all in our minds. Particularly peculiar (now try to repeat those two words ten times ... fast, ha) explanations are mostly our creativity leaking through. Of course, sometimes life is indeed stranger than fiction and the curious way we were inspired for that short-story about a ghostly revenge is more disturbing than the little tale itself ... but I digress.

Does it take away or rather add to the mystery when authors offer up some quirky anecdote about how they got the idea for one of their stories? I honestly don't know. What I do know, and maybe that's the writer in me talking, is that I rarely find it interesting to learn more about how a plot-line came to be. Well, at least not down to the last gory detail. In the end it's the actual story that grabs me. It's a bit like not caring about the cook shopping for ingredients and simply relishing the delicious result, if you will. Of course that's just me. Maybe I'm too familiar with the whole process of catching that idea before it turns into a pillar of salt, to be unduly interested about fellow writers tiptoeing through their own muddy patches of ideas. Maybe writers are simply prone to view this all a bit differently than readers will.

I shall leave you with something John Steinbeck said, "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." Now you know where ideas really come from. Having sex. Ha.

Have you ever wondered about where writers get their ideas from? Or are you just happy that they got them and brought them on paper? Do you like to learn more about how a story came to be or is it enough for you that you've got an enjoyable read in your hands? Please share!

January 27, 2013

The Reading Files - The one in which I travel through time ...

... just to find out that it was all just a prophetic dream. Or delusion. I tend to mix the two up every now and again.

Can We Travel Through Time? (Michael Brooks)

Thoughts. It's never easy to bridge the gap between being fascinated by a topic and actually understanding the matter. This book manages to do so in a succinct, fun and very accessible way. Conversationally written, and educational too. Slowly easing into physics? This is the way to go.

Conversation starter. Your hand may look solid, but trust me, it isn't. It is mostly made of nothing as the crystal structure of the proteins leave enormous gaps between the tiny atoms.

Verdict. A wonderfully comprehensible lesson in physics!

Paranormality (Richard Wiseman)

Thoughts. We experience the impossible, or so we believe. From the psychology of suggestion straight to finding patterns in coincidence this book explains the how and why behind our tendency to be drawn to the supernatural. After reading this you'll never look at the Quija board the same way again.

Lesson learned. Want to learn how to give a psychic reading? Acquaint yourself with flattery, double-headed statements, ambiguous comments, fishing and forking, and predicting the likely. This fakery is also known as "cold reading".

Verdict. A light yet insightful read on the science behind the supernatural!

Review - A Curious Invitation (Suzette Field)

Since ancient times human beings have gathered together for social purposes. And since not very long after that writers have written about these occasions. The party is a useful literary device, not only for social comment and satire, but as an occasion where characters can meet, fall in love, fall out or even get murdered. 
A Curious Invitation features forty of the greatest fictional festivities. Some of these parties are depictions of real events, like the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball on the eve of battle with Napoleon in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair; others draw on the author’s experience of the society they lived in, such as Lady Metroland’s party in Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies; while yet others come straight from the writer’s bizarre imagination, like Douglas Adams’ flying party above an unknown planet from ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Suzette Field offers you the chance to gatecrash these parties, spanning most of the history of human civilization, seen through the eyes of the world’s greatest writers.

Find the book at Pan MacMillan and on Goodreads!

Review
Being instantly drawn to this book, which features such a quirky title in combination with one of the most gorgeous covers I've seen in a long time, this proved indeed to be quite a unique read. Suzette Field certainly picked an unusual topic in her book A Curious Invitation, presenting an eclectic collection of bookish parties - from Queen Alice's Feast to The Ball at Mansfield Park, straight to The Thomas Ewen High School Prom and Finnegan's Wake!
The focus on parties as literary device, and possible inspiration for your own fictional party, sounded fascinating and certainly did not disappoint. Not simply a reiteration of what other authors have written, everything from the location of each party to the dress code, food, and entertainment is being highlighted with refreshingly British humor.
Of course some might wonder what use such a book may have, apart from being wonderfully entertaining, and all I can say is, it's not just a marvelous introduction to the broad variety of novels included, even more so it opens a whole new viewpoint from which to dip into these, often classic, stories. Plus, if you should feel so inclined, it will certainly make for interesting party planning too. Of course, being one of London's top party organizers, Ms Field knows her way around parties that are, shall we say, a little different, so why not let her literar(ll)y inspire you to host your own?
In short: A delightfully bookish party planner!

4/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Pan MacMillan. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review - 100 Places You Will Never Visit (Daniel Smith)

Ever wondered what it takes to get into Fort Knox? Fancied a peek inside the Coca-Cola Safety Deposit Box? Would you dare to visit Three Mile Island?
The world is full of secret places that we either don’t know about, or couldn’t visit even if we wanted to. Now you can glimpse the Tora Bora caves in Afghanistan, visit the Tuscon Titan Missile Site, tour the Vatican Archives, or see the Chapel of the Ark. This fascinating guide book takes a look at 100 places around the world that are either so hard to reach, so closely guarded, or so secret that they are virtually impossible to visit any other way.

Find the book at Quercus and on Goodreads!

Review
How about a walk through restricted areas or risking a glance towards places whose existence is unacknowledged? If there is one thing that 100 Places You Will Never Visit is not, then it's being your average travel guide. Indeed it's a bit of a shame that Daniel Smith teases those fond of traveling with plenty of locations which spark the imagination yet are off-limits to people like you and me.
Succinct, spruced up with plenty of maps and photos, the selection made is not always surprising, yet fascinating nonetheless. The book features everything from military bases, to money vaults, from sacred sites to places of scientific interest. Some of them are more obvious than others, just take Area 51, while others were delightfully unexpected, such as The Skywalker Ranch. Some of them you probably don't feel like visiting anyway, say Snake Island, while other's aren't all that off-limits after all, think taking a guided tour through the Pentagon.
One thing that became obvious pretty fast was the heavy emphasis on the USA, which compose a full third of all featured locations, and I couldn't help but wonder if this selection is being purposefully aimed at an American audience as it's hard to believe that the rest of the world has only a handful of "secret places" to show off. Other than that this book proved to be quite a pleasurable excursion from the safety of my home.
In short: A worthwhile trip to secret and not-so-secret places!

3/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Quercus. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

January 26, 2013

Pajama Musings - Once there was a movie, now there is a book!

How often are books that made it to the big (or small) screen being discussed on blogs? Quite a lot I would say. How often have you thought about it the other way round though? Movies that jump onto the franchise wagon and bring not only a flood of shirts and coffee mugs along with them, but also make novels pop up in bookstores.

We've all seen the often dreadful new cover versions of beloved classics which suddenly feature a scene from a movie. But then there are those books who never had a "previous cover" as they were born along with the movie itself. I still remember when I was a teen I read a handful of such movies-to-book volumes, usually because I wanted to extend the whole awesome-movie experience without watching the movie a dozen times.

Want to know the first book that came to my mind? The Alien trilogy. Quite surprising, isn't it? And as far as I remember Alan Dean Foster's novelization of the first movie wasn't bad at all, in fact many scenes were more fleshed out and as thrilling as the movie itself.

Of course this wasn't the only movie-tie-in which made it onto my shelves back then. I also vividly remember both watching and reading Sneakers by Dewey Gram solely because I had a bit of a crush on River Phoenix back in the days.

While doing a little research for this blog post I also noticed that it's often the same authors popping up when these kinds of novels are concerned. Especially Dewey Gram, journalist and screen writer, has written a fair share of movie-tie-ins. I guess it's only a small step from writing for the screen to writing for the reader. His novelizations include Gladiator, Dante's Peak and Ocean's 11.

Science-fiction author Alan Dean Foster is probably better known, especially by fans of the genre, and apart from his own books he also wrote novelizations of Star Trek The Animated Series or more recently Terminator Salvation.

As much as books-to-movies go, many will find the movie version lacking, but what about those movies-to-books then? Are they possibly worse than the movie or are they on par with their big-screen sibling?

From what I remember, there were several enjoyable books I read in my teenage days. Not sure whether I'd feel the same way about them today though and admittedly I haven't read any movie-tie-ins in ages. But maybe you have!

Have you ever read books based on movies? If so, which ones? How did you like them compared to the movie? Or maybe you would never dream of reading movie-tie-ins? Let me know!

January 25, 2013

This isn't Fiction - Cooking, Carson, and Cuba

Let's get COOKING!

A cookbook is a kitchen reference publication that typically contains a collection of recipes. Modern versions may also include colorful illustrations and advice on purchasing quality ingredients or making substitutions. Cookbooks can also cover a wide variety topics, including cooking techniques for the home, recipes and commentary from famous chefs, institutional kitchen manuals, and cultural commentary.
Wiki

You might be strongly opposed to reading non fiction, but if you've ever reached for your great-granny's cookbook, which has been handed down generation after generation, well, I hate to break the news to you, but this qualifies as non fiction. See? It's really not so bad to stew something differently in between your usual fiction fare!

Long gone are the days when a cookbook was nothing more than a collection of recipes and pretty pictures. These days authors need to put in something extra to reach not only the cook but also the reader. Thus, you'll find lots of background information on ingredients and the far away places where they grow. Let's call it an holistic approach to cooking. And why not? It makes you want to grab a cookbook just to read, not just to cook.

Still not convinced? Or maybe you can't even boil water? Fear not.
Many non fiction authors approach the stuff that ends up on our plates from a whole different angle. So before hitting the nearest fast food joint you might consider reading Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser) and those contemplating converting to vegetarianism might be interested in reading The Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan).

Source

Who knew?
The Forme of Cury, or ‘the (proper) method of cookery’, is probably the oldest cookbook in the world. It was compiled in the late 14th century by the master cooks in the household of King Richard II.

OOO

Rachel Louise CARSON was an American marine biologist and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement.
Homepage

Curious? Find out more about this author on Goodreads.


Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth, are never alone or weary of life.

OOO

And now, how about getting outta town for a while? Spending a weekend in Chicago or exploring the Great Wall of China or maybe you're more for smoking cigars in Cuba?

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (William Cronon)

Behind the Wall: A Journey Through China (Colin Thubron)

Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana (Isadora Tattlin)

OOO

Now tell me, what's cooking on your stove? Environmentally friendly Cuban food stuff I would hope!

January 23, 2013

Beyond the Shelf - The Writer's Advice

Where to go? The Writer's Advice

What's it all about? Jai Farris spills the beans about her life as a writer, allowing a glimpse of the (not quite) illustrious life of those fighting with pens (and deadlines).

Who should check it out? Mostly fellow writers who know of the ins and outs of being glued to the keyboard, though it will equally appeal to readers I'm sure.

Time well spent? Hell YES! Jai is so wonderfully self-deprecating and witty and smart and I absolutely and totally adore this site!!!

One for the road ...

Rikki, I don't think we're in the Book Garden anymore ...

Once upon a not-so-long time ago I wrote a blog post about how some bloggers will change their blog theme on a weekly basis. Suffice to say I've never been fond of this, especially when the blog looked totally and completely and utterly and ... by now you hopefully get the idea ... different.

Fast-forward to the present. 

After blogging for more than two years with the previous blog design being my canvas of choice for the greater part of my blogging journey, I present to you ... my new look!

I think I just heard someone drop out of a chair, breathing a stunned WTF!? before fainting ... and come to think of it, maybe someone should check on Rikki who might be in serious need of an oxygen tent right now.

What can I say? It simply was time to change things a bit. All right, maybe more than a bit. Before you say anything else, I would like to draw your attention to the blog header - still the same blog name! See? It's really not so bad.

Trust me, you're not the only ones who need to get used to the new face of my blog. I'm in awe every time I look at it myself. In a good way though.

So when y'all have recovered from the first initial shock, let me know how you like the new look! 

P.S.: I might still tweak a few minor details here and there, so in case things are looking slightly wonky or weird, blame it on my inner perfectionist doing its job!

January 22, 2013

Quote Garden - Books are artifacts!

A book is more than the sum of its materials. It is an artifact of the human mind and hand.
Geraldine Brooks

Few things contain and impact the immediacy of cultural impress so evocatively as books, and not only through their ideas. A book is an artifact, and every age establishes upon the basic functional structure its own particular stamp.
William Everson

The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn't have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable. If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you're fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you're reading a whole new book.
Ursula K. Le Guin

After all, much of the fondness avid readers, and certainly collectors, have for their books is related to the books' physical bodies. As much as they are vessels for stories (and poetry, reference information, etc.), books are historical artifacts and repositories for memories-we like to recall who gave books to us, where we were when we read them, how old we were, and so on.
Allison Hoover Bartlett

A civilization without retail bookstores is unimaginable. Like shrines and other sacred meeting places, bookstores are essential artifacts of human nature. The feel of a book taken from the shelf and held in the hand is a magical experience, linking writer to reader.
Jason Epstein

No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop Winner

The lucky winner of the No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop is
Nina 
who will receive a $15,00 Amazon GC!

E-mail is on the way and please get back to me within the next 48 hours!

January 21, 2013

A Writer's Life - Who are you calling a weakling?

It's one of those things writers are seldom aware of. Over-usage of certain terms and expressions and words. We might not always notice, then again that's what the editor is there for - to grab us by the collar shoving our little puppy-writer-noses right into the ... well, you get the general idea. And we should listen to what they tell us when they throw an edited-to-death-manuscript back at us.

Now that pictures makes me smile! Why? Because my editor once forced my attention to my habit of starting sentences with "And". Funny how I never realized just how often I actually did that!? These days I still indulge in my little let's-put-an-AND-in-front-of-the-whole-sentence habit, but I do so sparingly (I hope) and only have field days with it here on my blog. After all, old habits die hard. Ha.

Created at Warning Label Generator

Getting carried away in the throws of creative passion is one thing, but there is no excuse for morphing into a prosaic lover ... errr, writer. You wouldn't want to be called an authorial weakling, would you? Thought so. The strongest plot idea can't fully blossom if it's drenched in weak writing. Apart from the obvious bad habit of using "And" as the first word in a sentence there are quite a few words and phrases which you should use rather sparingly.

To many writers this won't be news (though we admittedly often forget it along the way), but some words weaken our writing as they are too vague, telling something rather than showing it. Especially verbs that describe generic action can be replaced by a vast number of more descriptive verbs. Being a strong writer means that your stories will be strong too. And *oops* strong verbs lift up your writing, making it better and more appealing to the reader.

Of course that's not the end of it. Not even close. You need to watch out for over-used words, should refrain from sprucing up your text with cliches, avoid vague and abstract words, and keep an eye on consistency in spelling. Not writing sentences that extend over a full page is a pretty good idea too.

If you think this is quite a task, well, welcome to the wonderful world of writing! Now how to go on about it? An editor is helpful, no doubt about it. An army of proofreaders at your service won't hurt either. If you want to get it over with fast and easy I recommend you check out Pro Writing Aid or any other of similar websites out there. Though, if you ask me, a human doing the merciless dismantling of your text is to be preferred.

My fellow writers - have you ever fallen victim to "weak writing" while smooching your muse? Do you know about your personal weak spots when it comes to diction? How do you go on about avoiding all those textual pitfalls mentioned above?
My dear readers - how often were you disappointed when faced with a great plot idea presented in a weak ... all right, word repetition is a bad thing, so let's call it bland writing style? 

January 20, 2013

The Reading Files - All the things you'll never do ...

To set a good example in my This isn't Fiction reading Challenge I continued with my, you may have already guessed, non fiction reading this week. And without further ado I present you places you'll never see and parties you'll never attend ...

100 Places You Will Never Visit (Daniel Smith)

Thoughts. How about a walk through restricted areas or risking a glance towards places whose existence is unacknowledged? Succinct, not always surprising, and with a heavy emphasis on the USA, this sure isn't your average travel guide.

Conversation starter. Axum (Ethiopia) is allegedly the home of the Ark of the Covenant.

Verdict. A worthwhile trip to secret and not-so-secret places!

A Curious Invitation (Suzette Field)

Thoughts. What an eclectic collection of bookish parties! Who's thrown the wildest one? Alice (in Wonderland)? Rebecca? Carrie? The focus on parties as literary device, and possible inspiration for your own fictional party, sounded fascinating and certainly did not disappoint.

Delicious tid-bit. Negus (a hot drink of port, lemon, sugar, and spices) is being served as refreshment at the ball at Mansfield Park

Verdict. A delightfully bookish party planner!

Review - The Wisdom of Psychopaths (Kevin Dutton)

Psychopath. No sooner is the word out than images of murderers, rapists, suicide bombers and gangsters flash across our minds.
But unlike their box-office counterparts, not all psychopaths are violent, or even criminal. Far from it. In fact, they have a lot of good things going for them. Psychopaths are fearless, confident, charismatic, ruthless and focused - qualities tailor-made for success in twenty-first century society.
In this groundbreaking adventure into the world of psychopaths, renowned psychologist Kevin Dutton reveals that there is a 'scale of madness' along which we all sit. Incorporating the latest advances in brain scanning and neuroscience, he shows that there is a fine line separating a brilliant surgeon and a serial killer, illustrating the spectrum of psychopathy with some insightful and startling case studies.
The Wisdom of Psychopaths is an intellectual rollercoaster ride that combines original scientific research with bold on-the-ground reporting from secret monasteries, Special Forces training camps and rarefied psychopath wings of maximum-security hospitals. Provocative, engaging and surprising at every turn, The Wisdom of Psychopaths reveals a shocking truth: beneath the hype and the popular characterisation, psychopaths have something to teach us.

Find the book at Random House and on Goodreads!

And don't forget to head on over to the author's website and take the Psychopath Challenge!

Review
It was the title, and the somewhat scary cover, which first caught my attention. What promised to be a leap into the world of Hannibal Lecter is actually much more than that. In The Wisdom of Psychopaths psychologist Kevin Dutton introduces the reader to what exactly psychopaths are made of and, surprisingly, they have got quite a few good things going for them as this insightful and wonderfully entertaining tract proves.
Connecting psychopaths to violent behavior, to associate them with vicious crimes, is easy, and some will doubtlessly live up to this expectation. Still, your doctor may be one too, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The point is that there is a fine line that separates a great surgeon from a serial killer.
This book isn't so much about what psychopathic character traits we could adopt to implement them in our own lives, after all how do you learn to be charismatic or fearless, but it beautifully depicts why psychopaths are the way they are on both a neurological and psychological level. Ultimately it's about understanding them and Dutton does an amazing job illustrating their inner workings.
I don't think I have ever read a book that so skilfully blends a serious topic with an adventurous streak, especially when he undergoes a "psychopath make-over". Fast-paced, fun and smart, this is for everyone who wants to know more about what makes psychopaths tick!
In short: An intriguing and captivating work about the psychopath's mind!

4/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Random House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review - Moranthology (Caitlin Moran)

Possibly the only drawback about the bestselling How To Be A Woman was that its author, Caitlin Moran, was limited to pretty much one subject: being a woman.
MORANTHOLOGY is proof that Caitlin can actually be ‘quite chatty’ about many other things, including cultural, social and political issues which are usually the province of learned professors, or hot-shot wonks – and not a woman who once, as an experiment, put a wasp in a jar, and got it stoned.
These other subjects include:
Caffeine | Ghostbusters | Being Poor | Twitter | Caravans | Obama | Wales | Marijuana Addiction |Paul McCartney | The Welfare State | Sherlock | David Cameron Looking Like Ham | Amy Winehouse | Elizabeth Taylor’s Eyes | Michael Jackson’s Funeral | ‘The Big Society’ | Big Hair | Nutter-letters | Failed Nicknames | Wolverhampton | Squirrels’ Testicles | Sexy Tax | Binge-drinking | Chivalry | Rihanna’s Cardigan | Boris Johnson – Albino Shag-hound | Party Bags | Hot People| Transsexuals | The Gay Moon Landings | My Own, Untimely Death

Find the book at Random House and on Goodreads!

And while you're at it, don't forget to visit Caitlin's website!

Review
After her tremendously successful book How To Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran is back with a collection of columns she's written for The Times Magazine in her appropriately named anthology Moranthology.
Wading through a mishmash of different topics, mostly in the realms of popular culture, she also broaches more serious topics, such as living on benefits, or, my personal favorites, allows up-close-and-personal insights into her life, including how she got her trademark grey hair strand. Topics may vary, some columns being more poignant than others, ranging from grave to funny, and always with a tendency of bordering on the vulgar, Moran's witty and eloquent writing style is definitely the red thread in this book.
Little did I know this is a collection of older work and the only new additions are the short introductions to each column. Of course this presented the perfect opportunity to simply get to know her work better. Unfortunately though this book shares the fate of many anthologies - the likelihood that you will end up loving a handful of articles while the rest is just average padding between the covers, a padding that, in my case, consisted of an abundance of pieces about British TV series.
Seeing how my expectations were high after her previous book, this collection was admittedly a bit of a let-down for me. However, this is simply a matter of personal preferences and should not discourage anyone giving this book a try.
In short: A mildly entertaining anthology in typical Moran-style!

3/5 Trees

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Random House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

January 19, 2013

Pajama Musings - Let's bring color to those white spots!

I want you to take a look at this map and then tell me what's the first thing that comes to mind ...

Created at Aneki

The countries responsible for most of the page views on my blog? Or how about all the countries of residence of my favorite book bloggers? Wrong and wrong again.

In light of the fact that most giveaways seem to be only open to people in the US (or USA and Canada, in some cases) I started wondering how many very lucky people from all kinds of places worldwide ever won something on my blog. Of course a mere list would be a bit boring. And apropos boring - boredom can make you engage in all kinds of activities, such as creating the map above (but seriously, if you want to create a customizable map this is a fantastic site).

You know what my first thought was when I saw the result? There are still an awful lot of white spots on that map. I could have sworn that there must have been a winner in South Africa too, but apparently not. Not all that much going on in Asia or South America either. And hard to believe, but even in Europe there are several countries filled with people who didn't get lucky (in one of my giveaways, anyway).

The point is, it warms my heart seeing how people from around the globe are brought together by their love for books. While I do understand that personally sending out books is rather pricey with shipping costs, still I really wished that authors who offer books in giveaways would see the map of the world like I do. A world filled with readers.

Fellow bloggers, what's the most exotic place any of your winners ever came from? Would you agree that The Book Depository is a fantastic place for sending prices to winners? And tell me, when you have authors as guests on your blog, do you encourage them to make giveaways open worldwide? Please share!

January 18, 2013

This isn't Fiction - Business, Bryson, and Boudoirs

Let's get down to BUSINESS today. Not the kind that dogs do, mind you. A business is not just some office were you work or some place you love to shop. Think about it as what keeps the economy going.

I know what many will think right now. How boring! Admittedly books on Business (or Economy for that matter) aren't exactly known for being fun reads, and that's not even counting in the fact that we're talking non fiction too. Double whammy!

Now, if I asked you to name at least one book that fits into the category of a non fiction book about Business, what would you come up with? Anyone? Hello-ooo?

Settle in for a surprise, because I'm fairly sure that at least some of you might have heard of these two:
Who Moved my Cheese (Spencer Johnson)
Emotional Intelligence (Daniel Goleman)

Doesn't quite sound like it'd be all that dreadfully dry, am I right? Thought so. You see, the point is that many non fiction genres will mingle with each other, not only giving them more dimension, but generally speaking, presenting a broader approach to a topic. So why not throw in some psychology, self-help, or science too?

I can already tell that at least one or two of you (I am ever the optimist, eh?) would like to delve deeper into this matter! If you're interested in Business and Economy and would like to get some real fine book recommendations too I suggest you check out The Enlightened Economist blog.

Have you read any books in this non fiction genre which left a lasting impression on you, please feel free to share in the comments!

OOO

Bill BRYSON is a best-selling American author of humorous books on travel, as well as books on the English language and on science.
Homepage

Curious? Find out more about his books on Goodreads.

There are three stages in scientific discovery. First, people deny that it is true, then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.

OOO

Now let's get your read on! Whether in bed, the bath, or boudoir.

Tales from the Bed: A Memoir (Jenifer Estess)

Spiritual Bathing (Rosita Arvigo and Nadine Epstein)

The Stone Boudoir (Theresa Maggio)

OOO

Ever considered reading about business condact? How about walking in the woods with Mr. Bryson then? Or would you much rather soak in your spiritual bath?

January 16, 2013

Beyond the Shelf - The Bookshelf Muse

Where to go? The Bookshelf Muse

What's it all about? Dedicated to helping writers via descriptive tools, knowledge sharing, and support, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, provide tons of information for wordsmiths.

Who should check it out? Writers in need of a nudge Or was that the muse who needs the nudge? Hmmm ...

Time well spent? Come on, seriously, would I feature a site here if it didn't offer content that is helfpul and redeeming? See!

January 15, 2013

Quote Garden - Be kind to the Kindle!

Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.
Stephen Fry

Life without a Kindle is like life without a library nearby.
Franz McLaren

Those aren't books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell. You have to hold it in your hands and pray to it. You put it in your pocket and you walk with it. And it stays with you forever. But the computer doesn't do that for you. I’m sorry.
Ray Bradbury

It seems to me that anyone whose library consists of a Kindle lying on a table is some sort of bloodless nerd.
Penelope Lively

Lovers of print are simply confusing the plate for the food.
Douglas Adams

No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the
No Strings Attached Giveaway Hop
(January 15th - January 21st)

This is another hop for all the people who hate jumping through hoops to enter giveaways. This is a no strings attached, no requirements to enter hop. Well, on second thought, you are required to do one tiny little thing ... fill out a form!


I'm giving away an Amazon Giftcard worth $15,00 (if you're from the US) or a book of choice worth up to $15,00 through The Book Depository (if you're international).
Please note: This giveaway is open worldwide, but only for countries TBD offers free shipping to - please check here.

All you have to do is fill out the form!
This giveaway is now closed!

Rules 
Comments do not count as entries - you must fill out the form!
One entry per person.
Open worldwide.

Winner
One winner will be picked through random.org on January 22nd and will then be contacted by e-mail as well as announced here on my blog. The winner will have 48 hours to respond and if he/she fails to do so I will draw a new winner.

And now, head on over to the rest of the blog hop participants!

January 14, 2013

A Writer's Life - Countess Latisha? I don't think so.

I'm sure you will all agree that the names of fictional characters can sometimes make of break your love for a story. Just imagine stumbling over the name of your childhood nemesis which instantly makes you wish that the lovely and kindhearted heroine gets slain by hungry vampires in chapter two at the latest. Not much you can do about this other than finally make peace with the brat that glued your hair together in fourth grade. The point is, as much as names in a book are beyond the reader's influence, the writer can do a lot to avoid spoiling the joy of reading it (well, except for that childhood nemesis thing).

Every writer wants to find the perfect names for their characters, but sometimes we shouldn't give in to temptation and, say, pick the name of a close friend or maybe choose that cool-and-exotic-sounding-name of the newest Hollywood starlet. So, heed my warning or live with the result (which, trust me, might be reflected in unpleasant kind of reviews if your choices really hit rock bottom).

Source
Let me introduce you to my cousin Amanda ...
This won't mean that much to the reader, but ten years down the road you might find yourself in a place where you wish you had picked any other name than that of your cousin who ran over your dog as she was fleeing from the scene after being caught in the act with your spouse. You get the idea. There are so many names in the world, take my advice and don't choose one simply to pay homage to that special person in your life.

Source
My countess looks exactly like a Latisha ...
There's a time and place for everything. That includes names. Unfortunately finding modern names in historical settings isn't such an uncommon thing and it drive's me up the wall every time. It's not as though you'd write your novel without any research (I would hope), so don't stop at looking up street names in the city where your story takes place, keep on going and take a turn at people's names too.

Once there was a Gabrielle now there is a Gabysia ...
And while we're talking about times and places, there is good news about getting exceedingly creative with picking names after all. Books set in the future. Need I say more? You can practically have a field-day here.

Fellow writers, are there any additional tips you would like to include concerning the quest of finding names for characters? 
Fellow readers, have you ever stumbled upon names that spoilt the whole reading fun? Please share!

January 13, 2013

The Reading Files - Let's get the non fiction party started!

I'm slowly getting back into my reading-groove or in other words, I've had enough of fiction on my plate lately, it's time to clear those non fiction books off the shelf. Hey you, back there stifling a yawn ... I saw that and I will hold it against you (unless you sign up for my This isn't Fiction Reading Challenge in the next two minutes, that is).

Moranthology (Caitlin Moran)

Thoughts. Wading through a mishmash of different topics, some more poignant than others, mostly funny and with a tendency of bordering on the vulgar, it was a bit of a let-down after her previous book How to Be a Woman which I very much enjoyed.

Quotable. A library in the middle of a community is a cross between an emergency exit, a life raft and a festival. (p. 211)

Verdict. A mildly entertaining anthology in typical Moran-style!

The Wisdom of Psychopaths (Kevin Dutton)

Thoughts. Your doctor may be one, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Surprisingly psychopaths have got quite a few good things going for them as this insightful and wonderfully entertaining tract (with a slightly adventurous streak as I'd like to add) proves.

Conversation starter. An estimated 1-2% of the population qualifies as psychopathic.

Verdict. An intriguing and captivating work about the psychopath's mind!

January 12, 2013

Pajama Musings - Once I was a blip, but now I have a voice!

Songs have been sung, poems have been written, curses have been cast. Of course it all depends on whether or not you engaged in a little virtual interaction (or not) which leads to the receiving end either singing songs of joy or makes them stumble closer to the abyss of painful defeat. What impact a tiny little comment can have!

Source

Late last year, having followed one of my favorite author blogs out there for literally months, I came to realize that the poor person behind the blog must feel slightly stalked if she risks a glance at her blog stats every now and then. I was nothing more than a silent blip on the map of visitors. A daily blip that originates somewhere in the middle of Europe. A blip that often showed up within minutes of a new post, lingering for a little while, and disappearing into the vastness of the virtual hemisphere without any further trace. Then, one fine December day, all that changed.

Yes, I felt a little funny after such a long time of thoroughly enjoying each and every single blog post, to finally head to that elusive comment section at the end of the post, leaving some wise words (well, sorta), introducing myself and apologizing for reading but never, up til then, commenting.

The end of the story? Blogger happy, me happy, and would you believe it, I inspired a blog post too.

What it all boils down to is the simple fact that I am apparently not the only one who ever got stung by the lazy-commenter-bug. I see that some of you nod in agreement. On one hand we do find time to read blog posts, on the other hand we often don't have another spare minute (or ten) to leave a funny or thoughtful or astonished or [fill in an adjective of choice] comment.

Now how about trying to change this? Baby steps for starters. I have decided to leave at least ten comments on various blogs every day. That might not be a lot in the grand scheme of things, especially seeing how I am following roughly 150 different sites, but it gets those commenting-wheels turning. So, let's call it a bloggish resolution for the new year. Oh, in case you want to join me on my mission of leaving ten comments per day, you can get a head-start if you comment here and now*.

Are you a bit like me - reading posts, but rarely commenting? How many comments do you on average leave on blogs every day? How do you like my plan to comment more this year? Comment away!

*I'm sneaky, aren't I?

2 by 2 Giveaway Winner

The lucky winner of the January 2 by 2 Giveaway is
Samhain
who picked the book Pet Sematary!

E-mail is on the way and please get back to me within the next 48 hours!

January 11, 2013

This isn't Fiction - Astrology, Asimov, and Anchovies

I was thinking (yes, this sort of thing happens). Why not kick off the new year with some fresh ideas? Veni vidi whatever-"deciding-something"-translates-into-in-Latin. So, to cut a long story short, I decided to go for a little A to Z theme in the Friday feature. And seeing how this is the first post this year I now present you with the letter ...

A, of course. 


Non fiction isn't all about facts, it can also border on figments of your imagination. Nevertheless ASTRONOMY and ASTROLOGY both have a spot within the wide world of non fiction.

Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects; the physics, chemistry, and evolution of such objects; and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth.
Wiki

Astrology consists of a number of belief systems which hold that there is a relationship between astronomical phenomena and events in the human world.
Wiki

Still got trouble telling the two apart?
When people ask you your "sign"- that's Astrology. [...] Not to be confused with Astronomy, the bad-ass science of the universe.
Urban Dictionary

See, the two couldn't be further apart ... or maybe not?
Astrology and Astronomy were archaically one and the same discipline, and were only gradually recognized as separate in Western 17th century philosophy.

Who knew?
Astrology is thought to be both a science and an art. It claims scientific status because it requires mathematics and an understanding of Astronomy. It is an art because interpretation is necessary to bring the different aspects together and formulate an idea of the individual's character traits and tendencies.

OOO

Isaac ASIMOV was a Russian-born American author and professor of biochemistry, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Not only was he one of the most prolific authors of our time, he ventured into both fiction and non fiction territory.
Homepage

Curious? Find out more about Asimov's work on Goodreads.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..."

OOO

You'll find non fiction books on a broad spectrum of topics. Some will start with the letter A too. If you're feeling particularly hungry, you may read about apples, appetizers, or ... ewww ... even anchovies!

An Apple Harvest (Frank Browning and Sharon Silva)

The Big Book of Appetizers (Meredith Deeds and Carla Snyder)

Olives, Anchovies, and Capers (Georgeanne Brennan and Leigh Beisch)

OOO

So what tickles your fancy? Interested in Astrology? Read anything by Asimov? Or are you already checking out some appetizer recipes? 

January 9, 2013

2 by 2 Giveaway


Welcome to the January edition 
of the 2 by 2 Giveaway!

You'll never look at your pet the same way again ...

Pet Sematary (Stephen King)
Watchers (Dean Koontz)

Once this post goes live you have two days (48 hours) to enter by filling out the form!
Please note: This giveaway is open worldwide, but only for countries TBD offers free shipping to - please check here.

Rules
Comments do not count as entries - you must fill out the form!
Following my blog is no requirement, but greatly appreciated.
One entry per person.
Open worldwide.

Winner
One winner will be picked through random.org on January 12th and will then be contacted by e-mail as well as announced here on my blog. The winner will have 48 hours to respond and if he/she fails to do so I will draw a new winner.

Beyond the Shelf - AuthorCulture

Where to go? AuthorCulture

What's it all about? A team of authors who want to inspire, enlighten, and unite writers and readers alike.

Who should check it out? Writers and readers, obviously.

Time well spent? Absolutely. The site features a great variety of content, from publishing to publicity, from writing tips to my personal favorite, those Fabulous Fun Friday posts.

One for the road ...

January 8, 2013

Quote Garden - Old & New

It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.
C.S. Lewis

The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.
Joseph Joubert

I doubt if I shall ever have time to read the book again -- there are too many new ones coming out all the time which I want to read. Yet an old book has something for me which no new book can ever have -- for at every reading the memories and atmosphere of other readings come back and I am reading old years as well as an old book.
L.M. Montgomery

Wear the old coat and buy the new book.
Austin Phelps

Old books that we have known but not possessed cross our path and invite themselves over. New books try to seduce us daily with tempting titles and tantalizing covers.
Alberto Manguel

January 7, 2013

A Writer's Life - Let me write what I (hopefully don't) know!

If you ask me the whole write-what-you-know thing is poppycock. I mean where would that leave us as writers? No, seriously, think about it. If we only wrote about stuff we know and experienced, there would be a shocking lack of some of my favorite genres on my bookshelves. And that, my friends, would be a truly sad thing.

So, let's reword that stale phrase to ...

Write what you can imagine!

Copyright by Claude McCoy

After all, if we stuck to the knowledge rule when it comes to plotting, that would lead to some very disturbing conclusions. For the reader, of course, it's good that writer's are often a bit, shall we say different? Sadly, or luckily, I am not excluding myself here though I prefer the term quirky.
In the know? Or simply blessed with a vivid imagination? You be the judge.

There are those who are apparently not easily scared, neither by their childhood trauma's nor by inanimate objects doing strange things. You know the kind of person whose pets you most certainly don't want to sit. Trust me, I wouldn't mind having Stephen King's bank account, but then again living in his creepy place might seriously reduce my beauty sleep to zero. Not to say he doesn't live in a lovely town, but to be perfectly honest the whole famed author thing might be a bit overrated anyway.

Of course life doesn't have to be all that exciting for a writer. Some lead a wonderfully quiet life, the kind where you relax with a good book in your hands sipping a nice cuppa tea. Of course, next thing you know dead bodies are turning up in front of your favorite coffeeshop. One thing leads to another and you're suddenly the main suspect in a very real murder investigation which does all but impress the boss in your current dead-end job. And yes, you need that job, because writing alone doesn't exactly pay the rent.

Thankfully not all writer's get tangled up in murder and mayhem. Just imagine the costs for exorcisms and lawyers if they were!

Of course things get even more intriguing and maybe a tad bewildering when it comes to science fiction and fantasy. Somebody smocked something, eh?

Now tell meif authors were only writing  about what they know, which book(s) would leave you on the wrong side of surprised?

Tea & Books Reading Challenge Winners

First of all, I'd like to congratulate each and every one of you who made it past the finish line of this challenge! Not all might have reached their chosen level (including me), but that's what challenges are about - we mightn't have succeeded, but we did not loose either, not completely anyway. After all, reading "only" three tomes instead of four is still a great achievement. In fact, even one book instead of two is better than nothing (basic math, really).

I also appreciate the feedback you left in the form - apparently everyone enjoyed the challenge (despite it being quite, well, challenging) and a few of you also threw in some suggestions or thoughts for the rules. Some issues have already been addressed by the "new" rules for the challenge, but I will get into more specifics in the first update post of the challenge in four week's time.

Time to announce the two lucky participants of last year's Tea & Books Reading Challenge!

Handpicked Winner

Random Winner
Margaret @ Books Please

E-mails are on the way and in case you didn't win, but want to be in for a chance to win next year, go ahead and sign up for this year's challenge!

January 6, 2013

The Postman Files - Calendars, anyone?

Many of you know that I am a bit of a book hoarder, but I shall let you in on another secret ... I also have a bit of a thing for calendars. Let's just say, there is (at least) one in every room, including the toilet. That said, I was giddy with joy when I unpacked the lovely Christmas parcel that Rikki sent me ...

Gifted 
Fly By Night (Frances Hardinge)
from Rikki @ Rikki's Teleidoscope

And if you look close enough you'll see the two calendars Rikki aka the digital scrap-booking gal made - one is a desk calendar and the other bookmarks! How genius is that? I am already using the January bookmark and know, when I get so totally lost in my book, I still now what day it is, ha!

Thanks so much again, Rikki!

Then I also received another card from the Book Bloggers Holiday Card Exchange hosted by Judith from Leeswammes' Blog.

A big thank you goes out to 
Rosemary @ No Charge Book Bunch!

Yep, that is all for today, folks! As some might remember I put myself on a book buying ban in December and the weeks went by like a breeze. Of course for this year my goal is not to buy more than six books each month, which means I behaved. So far.

The Reading Files - Don't save the best for last!

I thought why not start into the new year with a little re-reading? And what would be better suited for this purpose than my favorite trilogy of all-time ...

The Gate of Ivory (Doris Egan)

Thoughts. Take a scoop of fantasy, add a pinch of science fiction, and top it off with a dollop of adventure. Fresh, unique and witty, this is a piece of marvelous story-telling all through the eyes of Theodora, an anthropologist stranded on a planet where magic still exists.

Last line. Thirty-six days. I wouldn't want to make any bets on who would be holding the deck of cards when I finally made it back to Athena.

Verdict. This is the kind of book I wish I had written!

Two-Bit Heroes (Doris Egan)

Thoughts. There is certainly an emphasis on adventure in this one. Think outlaws and romance and Robin Hood, of all things. Oddly enough it was the second book that first brought this trilogy to my attention and I cannot help having a particularly soft spot for the novel because of that.

Random quote. Magic, at its very best and most tame, as every sorcerer wants it, is also at its most dumb. It does what you tell it. It does exactly what you tell it. And it does only what you tell it. I understand a lot of people have died accidental deaths down through the years because of this. (p. 42)

Verdict. An exciting adventure, plain and simple!

Guilt-Edged Ivory (Doris Egan)

Thoughts. Things come full circle in the last book when the focus gets back to family business, all nicely wrapped up in a bit of a murder mystery. Probably the weakest of the trilogy, though the level's been set really high by its predecessors. And yes, I am still in shock that there isn't a fourth book.

First line. Assassinations are so inconvenient.

Verdict. A worthy finale in an amazing trilogy!

OOO

Curious? 
You can read an excerpt of the first book here.