April 20, 2019

Visiting the world's largest independent bookstore

Powell's City of Books claims to be the "largest used and new bookstore in the world, occupying an entire city block and housing approximately one million books." I had the good fortune of visiting Powell's while passing through Portland, and it was by far the most impressively gigantic bookstore I've ever been in!

It's true that the store occupies an entire block. That's an awful lot of real estate. Not only that, but it's at least three floors tall. I say "at least" because there were lower levels where I wasn't sure if they were part of the first floor or a basement level. The books were organized by color-themed rooms, but in the short time that I was there, I couldn't figure out which books resided in which rooms. I had to follow the signs, and even then, I got lost a few times. How amazing is it to actually get lost in a bookstore?

One would expect that with a bookstore so huge, the selection would be just as vast, and it was. There were old books and new releases, used books and new, in every genre you can think of. I was able to find a couple of books that I'd been looking for that I haven't been able to find at other book retailers. (Yes, they're available on Amazon, but the prices at Powell's was actually cheaper.)

I wish I had more time to browse the store. I could easily spend a day there and not see everything. They even have a rare books room, which could have occupied an hour all by itself.

If you ever get a chance to visit Portland, or if you're lucky enough to live there, I highly recommend visiting Powell's City of Books!

March 17, 2019

I'm reading more thrillers

I'm a big believer that, to be a better writer, one should read more. As a corollary, reading in the genre that one intends to write is even better. For the last few months, I've been working on a thriller, which I'm in the midst of editing, so I've been reading more thrillers recently.

Thriller is a broad genre. According to Wikipedia, it encompasses stories that elicit feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation, and anxiety. For me, when I think of thrillers, I think of authors like Lee Child and Lisa Gardner. I also think of psychological thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.

In my personal reading, I've seen the balance shift from YA to thrillers. This year alone, I've read five books in the YA category but eight thrillers so far. I expect that trend to continue because I'm finding that I really like the books I've read. Thrillers have been my second favorite genre for a long time (and hence the reason why I decided to write one myself), but the more I read, the more hooked I'm getting. This is especially true for psychological thrillers, although I don't think I'm ready to write one of those yet. I haven't been able to come up with some of the neat twists (e.g., Gone Girl) that I've read, but maybe someday I will.

This could be the first year since I started tracking my reading activity on Goodreads that I read more books in a genre other than YA, but I'm enjoying it so far. Who knows, this might signal the beginning of a transformation from my being a YA author to a thriller author!

February 23, 2019

Getting Older Isn't All Bad

Rarely does a day go by when I'm not reminded that I'm getting older. Whether it's forgetting little things, dealing with nagging injuries that used to heal in days when I was younger, or wishing I could still eat buffets without worrying about my expanding waistline, my body likes to make sure I'm aware of my age. However, when it comes to writing, my years on the earth have provided several benefits.

  1. I've had lots of practice writing. I don't know if I've hit the 10,000-hour milestone yet, but the more I've written, the better my writing has become.
  2. I've read lots of books. This is a corollary to #1. Reading is one of the best ways to become a better writer IMHO, and by my conservative estimates, I've read more than 2,000 books so far in my life, not counting essays, papers, and other passages that were required for school. That's a lot of examples to draw from when it's time for me to write my own books.
  3. I've had more life experiences. A couple of years ago, I read some of the short stories I wrote when I was under twenty. Not only was my writing laughably awful, but the things I wrote about and my viewpoints were naive. Even if I had mastered a command of the English language at that age, my stories wouldn't be as textured as the ones I can write now, and that's due to having been alive for a few decades.
  4. I have more discipline. Having to juggle a full-time job, raising a family, and all of the other adult responsibilities in my life have taught me how to get things done. I don't always succeed in doing what I ought to, but I'm a lot better at it now than when I was twenty.
  5. Insomnia means more time to write or to think about writing. This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but as I get older, I've had more trouble sleeping. What do I often do when I'm lying in bed? I brainstorm ideas for my work in progress or new story ideas. If only my aging brain would hold on to more of those ideas until the morning when I can write them down, but that's another topic...

Richard Adams didn't publish his first novel, Watership Down, until he was 52, and Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't publish the Little House books until her 60s, so I still have many more productive writing years ahead of me. Chances are that I'll become an even better writer as I continue to age.

January 19, 2019

Reading goals for 2019

Every year, I try to have some kind of reading goal or theme to complement the books I'd normally choose to read. In 2017 and 2018, it was to make an appreciable dent in the TBR books I already own, and I've been able to do that, completing 65 such books in the last two years.

This year, I'm planning to have two reading goals:
  1. Re-reading my favorites: I rarely re-read a book, no matter how much I love it, because there are so many new books to read. However, this year, I'm going to do just that. I want to re-read at least six books (one every two months) that I've rated 5 stars. I don't know what those books will be yet, but it should be fun regardless of which ones I pick. Note: For purposes of my year-end reading statistics, I won't include the ratings for these books because I've already rated them.
  2. Authors A to Z: Back in 2013, I started an A to Z reading challenge where I would read one book by an author whose last name started with each letter of the alphabet. Back then, it took me 26 months to go through all 26 letters. This year, my goal is to finish that challenge within one year.

At the end of the year, I'll report how I did with both reading goals. What reading goals did you make for yourself this year?

January 1, 2019

Favorite reads of 2018

Happy New Year! As we ring in the new year, let's take a look back at the top ten books I read last year.

1. Obsidio - Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
Wow, what an awesome conclusion to an awesome trilogy! All three books in the Illuminae Files series ended up as my #1 favorite read in the year I read them. A great plot, great characters, engaging writing, and an unusual format make this an ideal combination for me. If you haven't read the Illuminae Files yet, go do it now!

2. Muse of Nightmares - Laini Taylor
I can't think of an author who writes as beautifully as Laini Taylor, and Muse of Nightmares was Ms. Taylor at her best. She wields words as masterfully as Michelangelo wielded a paint brush. What also left me awestruck about this book was the way all of the pieces fit together in the end. Laini Taylor is a genius for coming up with the backstories and story line. If not for the fact that I'm such a sucker for books with unusual formats, this could have been my favorite read of the year.

3. Warcross - Marie Lu
Marie Lu is one of my favorite YA authors. First, there was the Legend series. Then The Young Elites. She's done it again with Warcross, a near-future YA book centered on the titular video game. The story is engaging, the action is fast paced, and the writing is as good as with any of her other books. The only drawback was the ending and how much was left open, which was obviously a way to entice readers to read the second book in the series.

4. My Plain Jane - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
My Lady Jane was one of my top 10 reads for 2016, and the second book by the "Lady Janies" was as good if not better. This re-imagining of Jane Eyre was full of funny and entertaining moments. Whether you're a fan of Jane Eyre or not (and I've never read Jane Eyre - gasp!), you'll enjoy this book.

5. Artemis - Andy Weir
This second novel by Andy Weir isn't as heavy on the science as The Martian was, and it was more fun to read. The best part of the book was the protagonist's irreverent tone (the story is told in first person), although sometimes that irritated me a little too. However, the fast-paced plot more than made up for it. I finished the book in two days, which is fast for me. This was a great, entertaining read.

6. The Diabolic - S.J. Kincaid
This book had all the elements of a great YA sci-fi story that I look for. The plot was interesting and kept me flipping through the pages, losing track of time as I read large chunks in a single sitting. The protagonists were easy to sympathize with, even if I wasn't sure if I should because it was hard to tell with certainty who was good and who wasn't. The world was also nicely laid out, and I thought the author did a nice job of describing how the government worked without resorting to info-dumping. The novel does get violent at times, so those with weak stomachs should be warned. However, for most YA readers, I highly recommend The Diabolic.

7. The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss
I read the first book of the Kingkiller Chronicles, The Name of the Wind, in 2016. It's taken me this long to read book two, The Wise Man's Fear, not just because I'm notoriously bad at finishing a series in a timely manner, but also because I don't know when the third book will be released, and I didn't want there to be too big a gap between reading the books. Now that I've finally read The Wise Man's Fear, I can say that I like it even more than The Name of the Wind! If you enjoyed Kvothe's adventures in The Name of the Wind, there are more and perhaps even better adventures here!

8. No Middle Name - Lee Child
No Middle Name is a collection of Jack Reacher stories. The Jack Reacher books have become one of my favorites, and I've read more than half of the books in the series. However, only one other has made my yearly top 10 list until now. What makes No Middle Name better than the typical Jack Reacher book? Easy. There are a dozen stories. In this case, "more is better" definitely applies.

9. The Empress - S.J. Kincaid
The sequel to The Diabolic had a lot of the same elements as the first book that led me to enjoy it. The main reason I ranked it lower is that I wasn't as fond of the ending. However, I'm intrigued to read the third (and last?) book in the series to find out how the plot will unfold, given the direction the author decided to take in The Empress.

10. Only Human - Sylvain Neuvel
The final book in the Themis Files trilogy wasn't quite as good as its predecessors were (i.e., not enough battling giant robots) but it was a satisfying conclusion nonetheless. I recommend the series, even to readers who aren't enthralled by giant robots.

December 29, 2018

What I read in 2018

 Image courtesy of Goodreads

As we approach the end of another year, it's time to review the books I read in 2017. This year, I read 85 books, one more than the 84 books I read last year.

The average rating for the books I read was 4.07 (out of 5) stars per book, broken down as follows:
  • 5 stars - 29 books
  • 4 stars - 33 books 
  • 3 stars - 23 books 

The 4.07 stars average was a slight increase from the 4.05 stars per book in 2017. It's also the highest average for a year since I started recording my ratings.

This year, I also continued my efforts to read through the books I already own from my TBR list. I managed to read more than my goal of two TBR books per month, finishing 32 in all.

The ratings for these books were as follows:
  • 5 stars - 9 books 
  • 4 stars - 14 books 
  • 3 stars - 9 books 

The average rating for my TBR books was 4.00, lower than the ratings for the other books I read this year. I attribute it (and the reason for a higher average rating in general across all books) to the fact that many of the books I read this year were sequels to books I read and enjoyed in previous years. Since I already had a predisposed bias toward the author or the series that the books belonged to, it was natural that they were rated highly.

Next up, I’ll post my top ten favorite books of 2018. Stay tuned!

December 15, 2018

2018 holiday sale

It's hard to believe that Christmas is almost here! What better way to celebrate than with a book sale? Between now and the New Year, most of my e-books will be on sale for 99 cents or FREE on Amazon! Get these titles before prices go back up!

the Earth
  All That
Remains of Me
New Eden

Transmissions   In the Hands of
  Keep Your
Enemies Close
  George and the
Galactic Games

A House in
the Woods
  Protect   Search   Rescue

Drive   Through a
Tangled Wood
  Celestial   Spectral Tales

Happy holidays, and happy reading!