Review: The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan

Review: The World Between Two Covers by Ann MorganThe World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, literary fiction, nonfiction, world literature
Pages: 326
Published by Liveright on May 4th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A beguiling exploration of the joys of reading across boundaries, inspired by the author's year-long journey through a book from every country.
Following an impulse to read more internationally, journalist Ann Morgan undertook first to define "the world" and then to find a story from each of 196 nations. Tireless in her quest and assisted by generous, far-flung strangers, Morgan discovered not only a treasury of world literature but also the keys to unlock it. Whether considering the difficulties faced by writers in developing nations, movingly illustrated by Burundian Marie-Thérese Toyi's Weep Not, Refugee; tracing the use of local myths in the fantastically successful Samoan YA series Telesa; delving into questions of censorship and propaganda while sourcing a title from North Korea; or simply getting hold of The Corsair, the first Qatari novel to be translated into English, Morgan illuminates with wit, warmth, and insight how stories are written the world over and how place-geographical, historical, virtual-shapes the books we read and write.

The World Between Two Covers is a book about thinking about what you read, and why you read it. By thinking about “why you read it” I don’t mean which genres you love (or don’t). The “why” in this instance is much more about “why are particular books available to you (or not)” than why you find a particular book or genre engaging.

Not that the author of The World Between Two Covers was not engaged with many of the books she read, and not that I wasn’t engaged in reading about her journey. Because she was, and I certainly was.

The story here is about her journey through books. She goes from what made her decide to take this journey, through her process of actually managing it. And along the way she dives into the realms of why certain books are and are not available, and what effect the overwhelming preponderance of the the Western, anglophone marketplace juggernaut may have on literature and its availability in the future.

It’s a lot to wrap into one book.

This is not a collection of her reviews of the books she read during her figurative year abroad. The reviews are available on the author’s website, appropriately named, A Year of Reading the World, which she did in 2012. This is her story about doing it.

Part of the fascination of the project is in the sleuthing. When one is exclusively a reader in the English language, one of the first hurdles one must climb over is that one needs to find English translations for everything one plans to read.

It turned out that an even bigger hurdle for the author was in determining what exactly constituted her “world” and then finding some work, sometimes finding any work, from a particular country. Not merely finding an English translation of a work, but finding a work at all.

Not every voice is heard. Some places don’t have a written literary tradition. Some places don’t have a publishing tradition. Everyone, everywhere has access to American and British lit, or at least they do if they have some access to the internet. But the converse is certainly not true. She found herself relying not just on the recommendations of strangers to find material, but also on the kindness of strangers to find, or in one memorable case, create, translations for her.

As someone who is part of the world of reading and reviewing, I found this glimpse into another writer’s process absoluting fascinating. As a librarian, I found her thoughts on the publishing and reading landscape gave me insight into conditions that we don’t think about too much.

But perhaps we should.

Reality Rating B: There are the books. Then there is the process of getting the books. And finally, there is the writing about books and reading and publishing and what it means when we stay within our own comfortable little houses of mirrors. And what it feels like when we don’t.

Each of the aspects of this book will have its proponents. And for those who are disappointed that the reviews are not included, the joy of the internet means that they are all still available at A Year of Reading the World.

For this reader, the heart of the book was in the way that the author thought about what she read and about the circumstances that made certain books available, and works by other countries very nearly impossible to track down.

In the U.K., where the author is based, only 4% of the books available are works in translation from other languages. In the U.S., that figure is estimated to be 3%. In other “First World” countries where English is not the dominant language, those numbers rise to 30% or 40%. Everyone consumes our product, but ours is not cross-pollinated by much material from anyone else. There are questions about the effect of this imbalance on literature as a whole. We read in an echo chamber, and it’s an echo chamber that we increasingly export to the rest of the world. And writers in languages other than English are increasingly writing to what they perceive as the U.K./U.S. Western market because that’s where the money is. But the question of what voices are being lost echoes throughout the book.

The author also speaks to the way that the books that we are used to support our Western-centric worldview, a perspective that often reinforces the view of the West as conquering heroes and bringers of civilization to places that are seen as less-enlightened. Stories from other parts of the world present a different and sometimes uncomfortable perspective for us, that we have created messes in places where we chose to tromp on the existing culture instead of understanding and working with it.

For a small and not too uncomfortable sample of this view, as a U.S. reader watch or listen to BBC News for a few days. The BBC reports on a lot of parts of the world that U.S. news doesn’t bother to cover, and for the BBC, the U.S. is quite naturally NOT the center of the universe. But I digress.

On the one hand, the internet is what made this book possible. Without the ability to contact people from all over the globe at the click of a “Send” button, and without the ability for people around the world to see her project and want to help, this book could not have happened. At the same time, the internet can be seen to a homogenization of culture and literature that may not be good for anyone, as the voice of the internet becomes more and more Western centric, anglophone, and increasingly controlled by corporate interests.

If you care about what you read, this book will make you think about it. Hard. And that’s an excellent thing.

A Baker’s Dozen of the Best Books of 2013

2013 blockAs 2013 draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back and attempt to decide which books were the best of the year.

OK, so this list is the best of my year. Why not? Everyone else is doing it!

But seriously, it’s both a surprise and a delight to look back and see which books got one of the rare A+ ratings. Or even just an A. (Along with the discovery that I need to do a better job of tagging to make them easier to find.)

There aren’t a lot of romances on this list. Not because I didn’t read some good ones this year, but because, well “reasons” as Cass says. Mostly because I do a separate list of the Best Ebook Romances for Library Journal every year, and also recap that list here at Reading Reality. So romance gets pretty much covered.

And speaking of Cass, she contributed her trademark snark to this list. Along with a dose of draconic awesomesauce.

These are the books that stuck with me this year. Sometimes to the point where I was still telling people about them months later, or where I am haunting NetGalley, Edelweiss or the author’s website looking for news of the next book in the series or their next book, period.

Cass’s thoughts on her faves are very definitely hers. And her picks probably won’t surprise anyone who has seen her dragon shoes. (Note from Cass: Do you want to see my dragon shoes?! They are amazing!)

Whatever your choices were for this or any other year, I hope you enjoyed every single page of them!

Spider Women's Daughter by Anne HillermanSpider Woman’s Daughter by Anne Hillerman (A+ Review).  This is a case where life parallels art in a manner that is fitting and poignant. In the story, Navajo Nation Police Officer Bernie Manuelito picks up the case after retired “Legendary Lieutenant” Joe Leaphorn is gunned down in front of her outside a local diner. In real life, Anne Hillerman picks up the case of continuing her father Tony Hillerman’s mystery series by changing protagonists, using a female officer sandwiched between conflicting roles to solve the mystery of who shot the man she loves as an honorary father.

 

How the Light Gets In by Louise PennyHow the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (A+ Review) This was simply stunning, and there’s no other word to describe it. The light gets in through our broken places, and that’s what this 9th book in Penny’s Inspector Gamache series explores, the broken places in every single character involved. These are mysteries, but Gamache is not a detective who solves crimes by examing forensics; he solves crimes by studying people.

Imager’s Battalion (A Review) and Antiagon Fire (A Review) by L.E. Modesitt Jr. One of the things that I have loved about Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio has been his main characters. Both in the original trilogy (Imager, Imager’s Challenge and Imager’s Intrigue) and in this second series, we have a fantasy hero who is a grown up but still has to face the coming-into-his-power scenario. The women in the series are strong and resourceful in their own right, and the political challenges and machinations are never-ending but still make sense. I just plain like these people and can never wait to read more of their adventures. His protagonists make things happen without needing to be king or princeling. Fantastic.

Bronze Gods by A.A. AguirreBronze Gods by A.A. Aguirre (A Review) I just swallowed this one whole and came out the other side begging for more (which is coming, see tomorrow’s post). Bronze Gods is a masterful blend of steampunk, urban fantasy, mystery and police procedural, tied together with some truly awesome worldbuilding and the fantastic partnership of two characters who need each other to remain whole.  This one blew me away.

Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest (A Review) If Bronze Gods is steampunk as urban fantasy, then Fiddlehead is steampunk as epic. Fiddlehead is the culmination of Priest’s long-running Clockwork Century alternate history steampunk epic, and it’s a doozy. She started with poisonous gas knocking Seattle back to the stone age in Boneshaker, and rippling that event into an endless U.S. Civil  War. With a reason for zombies to be part of the mix. Fiddlehead brings it all to roaring conclusion, and almost aligns history back to the world as we know it. Epic alternate history.

Garden of Stones by Mark T BarnesThe Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes (A Review) This one blew me away. Library Journal sends me books to review, and it’s hit or miss. This was one that absolutely surprised and delighted me. It is epic fantasy, and the world is not just complex, but the reader starts in the middle. There’s no gentle introduction. You feel that this place is ancient and has eons of history, as do all of the characters. It’s immersive and amazing. If you like your fantasy on the complicated side, with lots of betrayals, The Garden of Stones is a treat.

Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football by Rich Cohen (A Review) These are not the kind of monsters I usually read about, and this was not the kind of review I usually write. But the 1985 Bears were my team, and I’ve never been able to explain why that year was so damn much fun to anyone else. This book does it. And at the same time, I can’t watch a game now without thinking about this book, and what it has to say about CTE and the high cost of playing the game we all loved to watch.

The Story Guy by Mary Ann RiversThe Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers (A Review) This is the one carryover from the Best Ebook Romances list, because it was so good that I couldn’t leave it out. The Story Guy was Mary Ann Rivers debut story, and it was an absolute winner. What makes it so good is that the issues that have to be overcome in this story are real; there are no billionaires or fantastically gorgeous Hollywood types in this tale, just an accountant and a librarian (go us!) who have real-world roadblocks to get past to reach a happy ending, if they can.

The Grove by Jean Johnson (A Review) This one is in Jean’s fantasy romance series, the Guardians of Destiny. And that series is a loose followup to her Sons of Destiny series. I’ve read both, and they are just tremendously fun. The fantasy worldbuilding is terrific, the romance is hot, and her heroines and heroes are always equal. No alpha-holes and no doormats need apply. (Her military science fiction series, Theirs Not to Reason Why, is also marvelous!)

The Human Division by John ScalziThe Human Division by John Scalzi (A- Review) Last but absolutely not least, John Scalzi’s return to his Old Man’s War series. Old Man’s War is one of my favorite books ever, and I pretty much shove it at anyone who even hints that they like SF and haven’t read it. So anything new in the OMW universe is automatically worth a read for me. The Human Division took the story in the new directions that followed from the end of The Last Colony, but left LOTS of unanswered questions. There was quite a bit of Scalzi’s trademark humor, but this is not intended as a funny book like Redshirts. I think this story is going to go to some dark places before it ends. But it’s awesome.

Honorable Mention: Clean by Alex Hughes (A+ Review) I adored this urban fantasy set in a post-tech wars dystopian future. Her flawed hero reminded me so much of the version of Sherlock Holmes in Elementary, but her messed-up Atlanta looked like a bad version of a place we could all too easily get to from here. The ONLY reason it didn’t make the “Best of 2013” list is that I’m late to the party. Clean was published in 2012.

Contributions from Cass:

natural history of dragons by marie brennanA Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (5 Star Review) because it was THE LITERARY EMBODIMENT OF DRACONIC PERFECTION. There is no more amazing depiction of dragons out there. It easily soared above my previous Dragon Favorites, and utterly crushed the Dragon Posers people are always trying to torment me with.

UPDATE FROM CASS: I invented a new rating scale for this one. I did not give it a mere 5/5 stars – but rather 15 stars. Nothing Marlene read this year hit that level of awesome. Come back sometime in February (March?) and see my feelings on the sequel. 

The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams (4 Star Review). Though I was a wee bit nervous when, at the WorldCon Mad Science Panel, certain contributors had some suspiciously specific ideas about how to rain mayhem and destruction down onto the audience. (Someone give Seanan a Hugo just to distract her from setting off an international incident. Please?)

parasite by mira grantParasite by Mira Grant (4.5 Star Review) Parasites freak me right the fuck out. There is nothing more horrifying to me than a society where MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS tell everyone to ingest a goddamn tapeworm as a cure-all. Could I see the sheep doing it? Yes. Which only amps the terror up.

So that’s our list for 2013. What’s on your list?

12 for 2012: The Best Dozen Books of My Year

It’s surprisingly difficult to decide which books were the absolute best from the year. Not so much the first few, those were kind of easy. But when it gets down to the last three or four, that’s where the nail-biting starts to come into play.

Looking back at the books I reviewed, I gave out a fair number of “A” ratings–but not very many “A+” ratings. And that’s as it should be. But there were also a couple of books that I read, and loved, but didn’t review. I bought them and didn’t write them up.

Love counts for a lot.

And there were a couple that just haunted me. They might not have been A+ books, but something about them made me stalk NetGalley for the rest of the year, searching for the next book in the series. Something, or someone that sticks in the mind that persistently matters.

This is my list of favorites for 2012. Your list, and your mileage, may vary.

Cold Days by Jim Butcher (reviewed 11/30/12). I started reading the Dresden Files out of nostalgia for Chicago, probably my favorite former hometown. But I fell in love with Harry’s snark, and stayed that way. Some of the books have been terrific, and some have been visits with an old friend. Cold Days is awesome, because Harry is finally filling those really big shoes he’s been clomping around Chicago in. He is a Power, and he finally recognizes it. And so does everyone else. What he does with that power, and how he keeps it from changing him, has only begun.

 

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (reviewed 8/29/12). Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series are murder-mysteries. They are also intensely deep character studies, and none in the series more deeply felt than this outing, which takes the Chief Inspector and his flawed second-in-command Jean-Guy Beauvoir to a remote monastery in northern Québec. The murder exposes the rot within the isolated monastic community, and the interference from the Sûreté Chief exposes the rot within the Sûreté itself, and within Gamache’s unit.

 

The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon (reviewed 6/20/12) The latest volume in Gabaldon’s Lord John series, which is a kind of historical mystery series. Lord John Grey solves military problems that tend to get wrapped up in politics. The Scottish prisoner of the title is Jamie Fraser, the hero of Gabaldon’s Outlander series, and takes place in the gap between Drums of Autumn and Voyager. The Scottish Prisoner has to do with an attempt by Lord John and his brother to prevent yet another Jacobite Rebellion by working with Jamie. If you like the Outlander series at all, this one is marvelous.

 

Cast in Peril by Michelle Sagara (reviewed 12/26/12) is the latest in Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series. Elantra is an urban fantasy, but the setting is a high fantasy world. The emperor is a dragon, for example. But the heroine is human, and flawed. She is also a member of the law enforcement agency. It just so happens that her desk sergeant is a lion. The commander is a hawk. Her best friends are immortal, and one of them is the spirit of a tower.  Kaylin’s striving each day to make the world better than she began it changes everything, even the unchanging immortals around her. Her journey fascinates.

 

Scholar and Princeps by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. I didn’t write reviews of these, and I should have, because I loved them both. Scholar and Princeps are the 4th and 5th books in the Imager Portfolio. The first three books, Imager, Imager’s Challenge, and Imager’s Portfolio were so good I practically shoved them at people. These new ones are in a prequel trilogy, but equally excellent. What’s different about these series is that Modesitt’s heroes in both cases are coming into their powers without it being a coming-of-age story. They are adults who are adjusting to new power and responsibility. It makes the story different from the usual epic fantasy.

 

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay (reviewed 1/6/12). This book was an utter surprise and delight. A former Buddhist monk leaves the monastery, becomes an LAPD detective, and eventually, a private investigator. What a fascinating backstory! Tenzing Norbu, known as Ten, retains just enough of his outsider perspective to be a fascinating point-of-view character. I stalked NetGalley for months waiting for the next book in this series to appear, because I wanted more!

 

The Fallen Queen (reviewed at BLI on 7/3/12) and The Midnight Court (reviewed 8/14/12) by Jane Kindred. I said that Jane Kindred’s House of Arkhangel’sk trilogy reminded me of Russian tea, initially bitter, often and unexpectedly sweet, and filled with immensely complicated rituals. Also incredibly satisfying for those who savor a heady brew. Take Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Snow Queen and cross it with the history of the House of Romanov. Leaven it with the most complicated pantheon of angels and demons you can imagine, then stir well with the political machinations and sexual proclivities described in Kushiel’s Dart. Only with more heartbreak.

About Last Night by Ruthie Knox (reviewed 6/8/12) had me at hand-knitted straight-jacket. But it’s way more fun than that. Also more complicated. It’s the story of a formerly bad girl trying so damn hard to make up for her past mistakes, and unable to forgive herself, and one man who has tried much too hard for much too long to live up to his family’s expectations, in spite of the fact that what his family wants has nothing to do with what he wants for himself. They make a glorious mistake together, that turns out not to have been a mistake after all.

 

Taste Me (reviewed 12/11/12) and Chase Me (reviewed 12/12/12) by Tamara Hogan. The Underbelly Chronicles were a complete surprise, but in an absolutely fantastic way. They are paranormal romance of the urban fantasy persuasion, or the other way around. Every supernatural creature that we’ve ever imagined is real in Hogan’s version of Minneapolis, but with a fascinating twist. They’re real because they are the descendants of a wrecked space ship. That’s right, the vampires, and werewolves, and sirens, are all E.T. And when they find the wrecked ship’s black box after a thousand years, it phones home. The family reunion is coming up in book three. In the meantime, there is a lot of yummy interspecies romance.

The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and The Line Between Here and Gone (reviewed at BLI 6/19/12) by Andrea Kane. I disappeared into The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and didn’t reappear until the end of The Line Between Here and Gone, although I still find the title of the second one more than a bit incomprehensible. Just the same, the Forensic Instincts team that solves the extremely gripping and highly unusual crimes in this new series by Kane is a force to be reckoned with. They have that kind of perfect balance that you see in crime-solving teams with the best chemistry. They are a fantastic “five-man band” which makes it a pure pleasure to watch them work, no matter how gruesome the crime they were solving.

Blue Monday by Nicci French. I’m currently stalking Netgalley for the next book in this series, Tuesday’s Gone. Which is not here yet, so it can’t be bloody gone! This is a mystery, but with a more psychological bent, as the amateur sleuth is a forensic psychologist. This one gave me chills from beginning to end, but it’s the protagonist who has me coming back. Because her work is so personal, she’s both strong and fragile at the same time, and I want to see if she can keep going.

 

And for sheer impact, last and absolutely not least…

The Mine by John A Heldt (reviewed at BLI on 9/28/12). There are surprises, and then there are books that absolutely blow you away. If you have ever read Jack Finney’s classic Time and Again, The Mine will remind you of Finney. Heldt has crafted a story about a boy/man who accidentally goes back in time to America’s last golden summer, the summer of 1941. All he has is a few stories of Seattle in the 1940s that his grandmother told, and a fortunate memory for baseball statistics. What he does is fall in love, with a woman, a time, a place, and a way of life. And then he learns that he can come home, and that he must. No matter how much damage he does by leaving the people he has come to love, he knows that he will do more harm if he stays. The Mine will stick with you long after you finish.

That’s a wrap. I could have gone on. I though about adding honorable mentions, but that way lies madness. Definitely madness! I did list my Best Ebook Romances for 2012 on Library Journal again this year. There are a couple of repeats from that list to this one, but the qualifications are different. LJ has lots of other “best” lists, if you are looking for a few (dozen) more good books.

I’m dreaming of next year.

 

A Labor of Love: Picking the Best Ebook Romances of 2012

It looks like an annual tradition. Well, I’ve done it two years in a row, so I’m hopeful.

One of the pleasures of being a book reviewer and a librarian is that I review ebooks for Library Journal, one of the trade publications that serves, well, of course, libraries. For the past not quite year and a half, Library Journal has been doing their damnedest to bridge the gap between the sheer number of ebook romances being published and the desire to get some reviews into libraries’ regular workflow. Ebooks are a hot topic in libraries all the way around, but figuring out how the library should spend limited dollars is still not easy.

I applaud the effort, and I’m very proud to be a part of it. In sort of a reverse of full-disclosure, no, I’m not paid to say this. I’m not paid for my reviews at LJ. It really is a labor of love. Sort of like book blogging.

The Library Journal Best Ebook Romances of 2012 column was published last week. With a much better picture of me and everything. It still looks cool. (Even my mom was impressed). But LJ always has to alphabetize everything. Librarians do that. My original list went this way:

Knox, Ruthie. About Last Night. Loveswept: Random. eISBN: 9780345535160. EPUB $2.99. Contemporary Romance

About Last Night was my starred review in LJ all the way back in April, and I never forgot it. Ruthie Knox’s contemporary romance is funny and charming (also gloriously hot) about a bad girl trying to be good and a good man who needs to let his bad side out to play a little more often than his straight-laced upper crust family can tolerate. Cath, the good-bad girl, also has one of those dream jobs, assistant to a curator at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Knox had me at “hand-knitted straight jacket”. Knox writes a terrific “sex into love” romance that will make readers laugh out loud. And finish in one sitting.

Vane, Victora. The Devil DeVere series: #1 A Wild Night’s Bride, #2 The Virgin Huntress, #3 The Devil You Know, #4 The Devil’s Match. Breathless Press. EPUB $3.49 each Historical Romance

The Devil DeVere series is a variation of the Rake’s Progress, or the Rake’s Reformation, except that is doesn’t start with said Rake as the main character. A device that was amazingly clever on Vane’s part and allowed her to circle in on DeVere without revealing too much initially. In the first two books, he’s the puppetmaster, re-arranging his friends’ lives. But in the background the reader catches hints that there’s more to him than the debauched reprobate we see. By the time we find out his story, we’re invested. The series is erotic and sexy and sometimes the reader wants to shake various characters until their teeth rattle, but it is absolutely marvelous. This one should be read with bonbons. And a fan!

Archer, Zoe and Rosso, Nico. The Ether Chronicles: #1 Skies of Fire (eISBN 9780062109149), #3 Skies of Steel (eISBN 9780062109156) by Zoe Archer, #2 Night of Fire (eISBN 9780062201089); #4 Night of Steel (eISBN 9780062201102)by Nico Rosso. Avon Impulse. EPUB $1.99 each Steampunk Romance

A world war, in the years just before we fought ours, but different. Because this world war uses a metal named telumium, and a fuel made from soya called tetrol. But oddly enough, some of the same players as “our” world war. So typical of steampunk, familiar, yet not. Airships, but also air-bikes, air-trikes, and air-horses. Air-horses! And something that’s unique to this steampunk world, the Man O’War, which is definitely not a horse, but a cyborg controlling an airship, and seemingly vice-versa.  But because we have a world war, we have spies, and secret ops, and all the romantic suspense possibilities that go along with that. Because it’s a “world” war, also all the options for world-spanning action. So far it’s been military operations in Europe, town-killers and ether-powered cowboys in the U.S. West, and rogues bringing “modern” technology to the Middle Eastern tribes. Indiana Jones had nothing on that one.

Pape, Cindy Spencer. Moonlight & Mechanicals. (Gaslight Chronicles, Bk. 4). 176 pages. eISBN 9781426894527. EPUB $4.99. Steampunk Romance

Spencer Pape’s Gaslight Chronicles (Steam & Sorcery, Photographs & Phantoms, Kilts & Kraken) are set in a steampunk world that deviates from ours at two key points; Charles Babbage’s difference engine was built (and worked!) and the Knights of the Round Table were not only real, but their descendants are still defending the monarchy, and by extension the realm, in this alternate Victorian England. In Moonlight & Mechanicals, we have possibility the ultimate steampunk romance, between a werewolf police detective and a female engineer who grew up fighting vampires. The detective, is, of course, a member of the Knights. And the heroine has had a crush on him ever since he saved her life. He just believes that he isn’t capable of being a family man. She’s just planning to tinker with him until she proves different. And they save the Queen!

Heldt, John A. The Mine (Northwest Passage Bk. 1) John A. Heldt Publisher. 290 pages. EPUB $0.99 TIME TRAVEL ROMANCE

The Mine is one of those stories that sneaks up on you and sweeps you off your feet. It reminded me a lot of Jack Finney’s classic Time and Again, in its sense of a man falling in love, not just with a woman, but also with a time, a place, and a way of life. Joel Smith starts the story as a cocky boy/man on a last adventure before college graduation. He bumps his head in an abandoned mine and wakes up in 1941, in America’s last golden summer before Pearl Harbor. He’s afraid to change things, but he has to find a way to survive in a world he only knows from history books and baseball statistics. Thinking he can’t go back, he falls in love and makes a life. Then he discovers that he can go back, and is faced with a terrible dilemma. He can leave behind all that he has come to love, or stay, knowing that if he does he may change history. This one haunts.

As usual, I started out by picking five, and snuck my way into choosing eleven! Way to go! And since you could say that Spencer Pape’s entire Gaslight Chronicles are included, a case could be made for calling this list fourteen. But who’s counting?

The fun part of creating this list is looking back at everything I reviewed for the year, at Reading Reality, at Book Lovers Inc., and at Library Journal. The difficult part was not being able to include anything that wasn’t at least sort of a love story, and that wasn’t an ebook, or primarily an ebook (there are print versions of Archer and Rosso’s Ether Chronicles, but most people will get the ebooks).

I’m just going to have to do a less restrictive “best of the year” list in December.

Ebook Review Central, Samhain Publishing, August 2012

We return, not to the thrilling days of yesteryear, but to the August 2012 titles from Samhain Publishing.

And readers did find some of the titles pretty thrilling, at least according to the reviews. Others, not so much.

Let’s not talk about the stuff that no one else was talking about. It’s just getting old. In some cases, it already was old. Enough said.

The book that everyone was talking about, which made it easily swim into the number one slot in this week’s featured titles list, is Degrees of Wrong by Anna Scarlett. Degrees of Wrong is, and I am very pleased to say it, science fiction romance, in this particular case of the “futuristic medical plague and doctor needs to find a cure” school. Also while kidnapped by the future U.N. and working on a top-secret hi-tech undersea warship. The romance: the doctor is a feisty and highly intelligent woman who is pursued relentlessly by the warship’s captain. She resists that relentless pursuit for quite a while, because said captain is tied up in a politically arranged engagement. The doctor respects his upcoming vows way more than he does. The first-person perspective really put readers into the doc’s head as she battles to find a cure, figure out the true agenda behind all the research, AND protect her heart.

This week’s number two feature is all about lucky number seven. Because the book for this slot is Seven Sexy Sins by Serenity Woods. Ms. Woods has taken one of the all-time favorite themes, the friends-into-lovers story, and combined it with a trope that is hard to do in a modern context, the “sex teacher” trope, and found a way to make it work really, really fantastically. The heroine, Faith, is a writer who has to come up with an article on spicing up women’s sex lives. Her only problem is that hers, so far, has been a dud. She’s not innocent, she’s just been unlucky. That’s believable. Her circle of friends commiserate, but one of them is her brother! Now there’s a potential downer. However, Rusty, her long-time secret crush, offers to help her out. Faith agrees, as long as they keep it a secret. Faith’s got some very good reasons for this crazy idea. Rusty kissed her once, and her brother punched his lights out. And when her article is over, she needs his friendship: he’s one of her best mates. If they try to be more than friends, and fail, their whole group could fall apart in the explosion. But when their friendship adds way too much depth to their sexual explorations, neither of them is sure if they can pull away. This one is both hot and sweet, something that Serenity Woods does very, very well.

Number three for this week is hot but not sweet. More like hot and hotter, and with an extra helping of jet fuel into the bargain. Katie Porter’s Inside Bet is a story about a woman  who’s concealing a wild past behind her successful career as an accountant. Her decision to have a no-holds-barred one-night-stand with a playboy fighter pilot-jock leads to an unexpected longer term fling. Heather and Jon are two people who both thought they were too jaded to be in this thing for anything more than just sex. Instead, they find out that they are daring each other to do things they never dreamed of, including, just maybe, fall in love.

All of this week’s stories are on the steamy side of the equation. Degrees of Wrong with a side dose of futuristic thrills, Seven Sexy Sins with a helping of friends-into-lovers romance, and Inside Bet just plain sex first and love later. But steam heated every single one.

Just a little something to warm you up if Autumn is bringing a chill to the air!

Ebook Review Central will be back next week with the multi-publisher, multi-legged (in honor of Halloween) wrap-up.

Bookish Rant: The Buying and Selling of Book Reviews

I wish I had a dollar for every person who sent me a link to the New York Times article about paying for book reviews. You know the one, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” from August 25. There’s a slight irony in the NYT publishing it, since no one really knows exactly how they compile their bestseller list, but I digress.

The things that keep circling in my mind about the whole “paying for reviews” thing go like this:
1.       It feels like there are more books out there than ever
2.       It is definitely harder to get people’s attention for anything than it used to be
3.       Most people pick the next book they are going to read because they’ve already read that author (96% based on the Goodreads May Newsletter) so how does a newbie author get on readers’ radar?
4.       Book Blogging is a labor of love, getting the blog to pay for itself (hosting fees, giveaways, etc.) is difficult enough, and blogging takes a lot of time and energy

Two things happen. (Okay, a lot more things happen, I’m only going to deal with two).

One of those things is the one that the New York Times article highlighted. Maybe low-lighted is a better word. Todd Rutherford made a tidy living for a while selling rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to authors. Not just authors whose names no one ever heard of, either. It turns out that part of John Locke’s self-publishing success is owed to purchased reviews.

Although the Times made a big deal about “exposing” this pay-for-play company, it’s a)out of business and b)not the only game in town.

Two companies, Blue Ink Review and Kirkus Book Reviews both offer a paid review service for independent/self-published authors. The difference is both cost much more (approx $400) and they each send the book to one reviewer who provides one review. Neither guarantees a good review. What they both offer is that if the author doesn’t like the review, the author has the option to not have it published. How often that happens, who knows?  Also, they don’t blanket Amazon and Goodreads with multiple five star reviews.

(As a librarian, I will say that Kirkus has a lot of history behind them. They’ve been in the reviewing business for a long, long time. Since 1933. I used to get their reviews when they went into a three-ring binder, which dates me as much as it does them. Their reviews were always long and thorough. What selling their services in this way does to their street cred in the long run remains to be seen. Their newsletter is available free online and for anyone interested in books it’s definitely worth a read.)

And then there were the ChicklitGirls, who are also out of business. After all, if Kirkus Book Reviews can charge $400+ for a book review, why shouldn’t a book blog charge a much more reasonable fee, oh say $95 for a book review? Just like Kirkus (well, sort of) they did disclose in their reviewing policy that there was a fee for a review. Unlike the more reputable publication they cited as their excuse, the “Girls” threatened to sue an author who complained about their practices. For a full report, take a look at the terrific summary over at Dear Author.

But isn’t what happened over at ChicklitGirls (minus the lawsuit threat, that was just bad behavior) part and parcel of the same thing?  They saw a way to make money, same as the New York Times article exposed (no pun intended) by charging authors for reviewing their books. And they tried to make money off what is otherwise a very labor-intensive what, hobby, addiction, drug-of-choice for most of us? Yes, I’m talking about book blogging. Which doesn’t otherwise pay.

We often get the books we review for free. But not always. Some of us buy them. Some people borrow them from the library. Often it’s a mix. Many blogs have affiliate links from Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and/or The Book Depository. If we’re lucky we take in enough to pay the hosting fees for our sites and the cost of any giveaways. We probably all spend way more time than we ever imagined. Book blogging should probably be the dictionary definition of a labor of love. We love sharing what we read, so we blog.

But what happens when you get paid for reviewing a book? If you blog and you sign up for a tour, you might have faced a piece of this dilemma. You’re part of the advertising for the book, even though you’re not getting paid. You hate the book. You know the author doesn’t want a bad review as part of the tour. What do you do when it happens?

If you’ve been paid to review the book, then what? You really are part of the advertising. Your review is an ad. Ads are supposed to be positive.  So, if a review is paid for, is it a review, or is it an ad?

And when you read one, how do you know?

Ebook Review Central, Carina Press, July 2012

The July 2012 Carina Press titles, at least when it comes to which ones got the most reviews, could definitely be said to owe something to the “Fifty Shades” effect.

The hottest books — in the erotic sense — were also definitely the hottest titles in the reviewing numbers.

Fifty shades of tie-ins!  Although the popularity of the book opened doors for more books that show a kinkier side of sex, it also spawned products in areas that the author couldn’t possibly have dreamed of. This one from Etsy may be the furthest after “Laters, baby” as later can get.

I’d much rather (make that much, much rather) get back to the Carina books.

First, I’d like to give a shout-out to Natasha Hoar’s urban fantasy title, The Ravenous Dead, which was one of the featured for Carina last month. Its date of publication seems to have changed, so now it’s on this month’s list. But I can’t feature it again, dagnabbit! Because it absolutely earned a featured slot this month, too. But each book only gets one bite at the apple, and The Ravenous Dead have already bitten.

So who are this month’s featured titles for Carina? I’m so glad you asked.

The number one featured title was so far out in first place that the sheer quantity of reviews is worth mentioning. The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden attracted over 40 reviews, all good or better. Those are pretty big numbers for an ebook-only title. What was it about The Theory of Attraction? Yes, it’s a BDSM story like Fifty Shades, with the virtue that it’s a heck of a lot shorter. Ms. Dryden’s story is also a geek love story, with two socially awkward scientists as the hero and heroine. Lots of readers identified with the couple and their geeky social circle. The geek dom made for a different twist on the trope: the hero was intelligent but not super-rich. RT Book Reviews described it as “erotic romance done right.”

In the second position we have another erotic romance, and another boundary-stretching and review-grabbing title as well. Sharing Hailey by Samantha Ann King pushed at the erotic romance envelope in a different direction. Hailey has always had a crush on her two best friends, Mark and Tony. But Mark and Tony are best buds, and don’t want to mess up their friendship by forcing Hailey to choose between them. Solution: the three of them get together! It’s perfect until Hailey’s abusive ex returns and tries to spoil everything. This story has 29 reviewers behind it, so far, all of them generally thinking it was pretty good or better. Again, 29 reviewers is a lot of positive feedback. This one looks worth checking out.

It was much more difficult to decide on the third spot. Two books were very close. But by a whisker, the featured slot goes to Rogue’s Pawn by Jeffe Kennedy. Rogue’s Pawn is the first book in her Covenant of Thorns series, and it’s a contemporary fantasy/urban fantasy with a touch of fantasy romance. Gwynn the bored academic in 21st century America crosses over to Fae at Devil’s Tower Wyoming and becomes a powerful but totally untrained sorceress–one who nearly gets killed as a danger to herself and others in her first day on the other side. Everyone wants a piece of her, and everyone wants her to be their pawn. Only one fae, a trickster named Rogue, might possibly have some of Gwynn’s better interests at heart. If Rogue has a heart. This is one twisted, dark and decadent fantasy world.

If I were giving honorable mentions, and I can, one would go to Karen Erickson this month for A Scandalous Affair.

Ebook Review Central will be back in two weeks (no issue next week because of the Labor Day Holiday!) with Dreamspinner Press.

Ebook Review Central, Hexapub, June 2012

This is the Creepy Crawly edition of Ebook Review Central.

Why Creepy Crawly? Six publishers, six legs. Spider-post. (Yes, we saw Spider-Man last week. Not bad, not bad at all.)

But we’re talking publishers, and not necessarily superheroes, although there might be a superhero book in the bunch. You’ll have to check the database. Take a look at the Amber Quill Press, Astraea Press, Curiosity Quills, Liquid Silver Books, Red Sage Publishing, and Riptide Publishing lists for June 2012. Maybe somebody published a superhero book this month.

Even if they didn’t, you’ll have fun seeing what they did publish, and what reviewers had to say about it.

What usually strikes me about the multi-publisher issue of ERC is that there are generally a lot of titles, but not a lot of reviews. There’s been a lot of discussion recently about the “epidemic of niceness” in online reviewing. If you haven’t seen the original article, it was  posted in Slate.

Unlike the New York Times Book Review, bloggers are not paid to write reviews. So, as a group, we may only spend our time writing reviews of books we like. Also, as Barbara Hoffert pointed out in an essay at Library Journal titled F. Scott Fitzgerald, Best-Selling Ebooks, and the Problem with Online Book Talk, bloggers are “out there” in terms of protection from legal repercussions if an author doesn’t like what we say. Library Journal has over a century of history behind it. It has a business structure. Most importantly, it has lawyers to defend its employees.

So, some of that epidemic of niceness may be a case of the old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. In which case, a ton of good reviews probably means that a book is at least a decent read (Think of how Rotten Tomatoes crowdsources movie ratings). But if no one is reviewing a book, it means something else. It might mean that the book hasn’t found its audience.

And it might mean that no one has anything good to say, so everyone is keeping their keyboards disengaged.

But there were books this week that generated plenty of reviews. Let’s talk about the featured titles for this week.

Clanking into third place this week is The Blacksmith’s Lover by Heather Massey. This is the second book in her Clockpunk Trilogy, after The Watchmaker’s Lady. It’s a short, intense, erotic story of Sarah, a young woman who escapes abuse at the hands of her employer to find refuge with a rather unusual blacksmith outside West Boylston, Massachusetts in 1840. Viktor doesn’t just make horseshoes. In his hidden workshop, he makes clockwork animals, steam-powered clockwork animals, and all manner of fascinating devices. Keeping the secret of his special crafting out of the wrong hands is the reason Viktor fled his native Russia. But once Sarah and Viktor start an affair, he uses his mechanical skills to defend her, even against a rival clockworker employed by her insane former employer. This steampunk story is hotter than the blacksmith’s forge!

Number two for this week wafts in on a puff of pipe smoke. Kissing Sherlock Holmes by T.D. McKinney and Terry Wylis is a new Sherlock Holmes case with one difference. Instead of Holmes being indifferent to his emotions, Holmes both gets engaged to a headstrong young woman AND embarks on a passionate affair with his friend Dr. John Watson. Oh yes, there’s a mystery to be solved, a tiny little thing about a sadistic blackmailer threatening to undermine the government. The idea that Holmes and Watson are in a relationship has been around forever. BBC’s Sherlock lampshades it at every opportunity. Most of the reviewers say that Kissing Sherlock Holmes does a reasonable job treating the relationship as a real possibility, with a couple of minor quibbles. Everyone seems to have solved the mystery too quickly. For a very funny, and snarky, opposing view of the book, read Julie’s review at Word Weary, it’s a scream.

It seems like it’s inevitable. The number one book this week is from Riptide Publishing. This week’s selection is Awakening by Cat Grant and Rachel Haimowitz, the latest entry in their Power Play series. This one is definitely not for the faint of heart. The Power Play series makes no apologies about playing with all four letters of BDSM; the two characters of this series, Jonathan and Brandon are in a consensual Dom/sub relationship, and in this second book of the series, Brandon has entered into a new phase of his relationship with Jonathan for a $3 million payout. It was the only way he could get Jonathan back. But to do it, he has to prove that he’s every bit the masochist that dominant and sadist Jonathan wants and needs. Because Brandon loves him that much. But it takes them both a lot of pain to get there. And not all of that pain, not by any stretch of the imagination, is physical.

Now it’s time for the spider to climb back to the center of her web until the next hexapost. Ebook Review Central will be back next week, when we’ll turn our gaze to the Carina Press July titles. I’ve found a Monster in My Closet, but no superheroes so far. Guess I’ll just have to keep looking.

ARCs, Stacks and Hauls

“When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.”

The quote is from Desiderius Erasmus. How totally appropriate, but also one I’ve lived by long before I knew it existed. My mom would tell you I spent my allowance on books when I was a kid. And generally owed her future allowances.

I’ve always collected books. More books than I could read at any given point in time. I love having the choice of what to read next. It’s not the object, it’s the content. Ebooks suit me just fine for most things, and they take up less space. This is a big deal when you move as often as we do, and when you own as many “dead tree” books as we do.

Still over 2,000. We haven’t even unpacked them all from the last move. In December.

About ARCs. I’ve worked in libraries that received ARCs in lots of different ways. One of my former places of work (FPOW) was in a major metropolitan area. The city newspaper still had a significant book section on Sundays, and received books for review. The newspaper donated their review copies to the library. About once a month we received an industrial pallet-load of books, mixed ARCs and “real” books. The “real” books often went into the collection. But the ARCs, never. Staff had the pick of the ARCs for collection development, reading copies, whatever we liked. But they were never put in the collection. If you are wondering what the newspaper got out of this arrangement, they got a tax write-off.

Other libraries I have worked at do sell ARCs at book sales, or they end up in the Friends of the Library book sales. I haven’t worked at a library that has put them in the collection, but I know it happens.

But what does any of this have to do with ARCs now? I can hear the question from here. The recent #ARCgate mess brought up a lot of questions and it made me think about the present and future of ARCs in general, and what any mailbox-type post looks like in particular.

I do get a lot of ARCs. More in one week than I can read in a week. I’ve always picked up more books in a week than I could read that week. The difference now is that I’m getting a lot of eARCs instead of deliveries from Amazon and B&N or borrowing books from the library.

But the ARC “stack” can look like a book haul, and that isn’t the purpose of it for me. I choose eARCs because eARCs are a win/win. My eARC does not automatically deny any other reviewer the same eARC. That’s the beauty of NetGalley and Edelweiss. No print, no postage, not necessarily a limited number of ARCs the way that a print run by its very nature limits the number of ARCs.

And no print ARCs left on my shelves at the end that I’m not quite sure what to do with. Because the last thing my house needs is more print books. One of the clear messages of the whole ARCgate mess is that what you should do with your ARCs after you’re finished is very, well, unclear.

What I’m curious about, dear readers, is how you feel when you see mailbox-type posts on book blogs. Do you see them as the blogger doing a bit to promote books that she or he might not have time to review? Do you see them as bragging? Do you find them useful for adding to your own TBR pile? Do you care?

Please share your thoughts! I’ve been having a serious re-think on this topic after ARCgate, and I’d love to hear from you.

 

Armchair BEA: Interview and Introduction

This is BEA week. Who or what is BEA you might ask?

BEA is Book Expo America, the show where book people do business. And it’s usually in New York in early June. It certainly is this year, although there are rumors about 2016 in Chicago.

Not all of us get to make it to NYC for BEA. Although many of us wish we could.

(Most years, for me, it’s a logistical problem. The American Library Association Annual Conference is in late June, and I am committed to attend that. Two conferences in one month is very expensive. There is overlap, but it’s not the same. I really want to go to BEA!)

Because so many bloggers want to get to BEA, and can’t quite manage, some of the enterprising among us invented the fantastic Armchair BEA! (There’s armchair football, why not Armchair BEA? I ask you?)

The kickoff event for Armchair BEA (see, see!) is an interview. Each participating blogger is supposed to interview themselves. (There’s a list of questions here, if you’re curious)

1.Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I started blogging in April 2011. We were about to move (again) and were packing up our huge book collection, trying to figure out what to keep and what to weed. I’m a librarian and weeding books is hard. I thought I’d be writing a lot about libraries, and it has turned out that I’m doing a lot of book reviews. Which I love.

The other things. I blog here at Reading Reality, sometimes known as Escape Reality, Read Fiction! I am also The Rocket Lover at Book Lovers Inc. My husband is the techie here at Reading Reality, although we are both die-hard geeks. Our cats otherwise run the house. Which moves frequently. Chicago to Anchorage to Tallahssee (FL) to Chicago to Gainesville (FL) to Atlanta. (I’m originally from Cincinnati, but that’s a whole bunch of moves ago!)

2. What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?

I’m listening to The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon and reading Deadly Secrets, Loving Lies by Cynthia Cooke. My favorite book this year is probably Blood and Bullets by James R. Tuck, and I need to get the review written.

3. What is your favorite feature on your blog (i.e. author interviews, memes, something specific to your blog)?

The feature that I’m proudest of is Ebook Review Central. Every Monday (except Memorial Day, so far), I cover the output of one or more of the ebook-only or ebook-mostly publishers for a month. Later today it will be Samhain who are ebook-mostly. I pull together all the reviews for their titles each month and highlight three with the most and best reviews. And I maintain a database with links to all the reviews. I also cover Carina, Dreamspinner, Astraea, Liquid Silver, Amber Quill, Riptide, Red Sage and Curiosity Quills.

4. Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

There are two posts I would want everyone to read (yes, I know, the question said one). Back in February, the Oklahoma Chapter of the Romance Writers of America suddenly changed the rules of their writing contest to exclude same-sex entries. Not because they couldn’t find any judges, but because their chapter members felt “uncomfortable” with stories that had, in fact, won the contest in years past. My post titled Hot Buttons Popping was syndicated by BlogHer.

BEA is a book expo. And it is also an exposition of traditional publishing. My background is in libraries. One of the big issues facing public libraries is how to handle the ebook revolution when most of the “Big 6” publishers will not license ebooks to libraries under any conditions. But exactly who are the “Big 6” anyway, and what does that mean? I couldn’t resist an attempt at describing them in 9 Rings, 8 Planets, 7 Dwarfs, 6 Publishers.

5. Have your reading tastes changed since you started blogging? How?

It’s not that my tastes have changed, it’s more that they’ve expanded. Which is bad, in a way, because I have access to even more books than I did when I was working in a library. I get a lot of first novels and ebook-only books, because I promote them on Ebook Review Central, and because I get them through book tours for review. So many neat new authors and series. But I still love all the things I always have, like science fiction and fantasy, and urban fantasy. There are so many wonderful books, and I want to read them all.

(Banner design: Nina of Nina Reads; Feature image design: Sarah of Puss Reboots; Rainbow pencils photo credit Horia Varlan on Flickr)