Random Thoughts

about reading, writing, teaching and anything else that interests me

August Reading, part 2

OK, it’s time to finish this up.

Speculative Fiction:

  • Dragons Rising by Daniel Arenson was the last one in the trilogy that I started in July. I absolutely loved all three books! As I think I said before, this is only one set of books that takes place in the same world. I want to read them all! Arenson creates really wonderful characters, and they are put in really difficult positions. They aren’t always victorious, but they always do the right thing. I can’t say enough good things about these books!
  • The Book of Deacon by Joseph R. Lallo was one of the first ebooks I ever got, and it took me five years to read it! Amazon lists it as being for grades 6-12, but I found nothing juvenile in it. The story was a good one, and I liked the characters. Reading some of the reviews on Amazon, I find that not everyone agrees with me (Surprise, surprise!) but plenty of people do. I recommend this book highly. I plan to read more of the series before long.
  • The Wrong Girl by C.J. Archer was a book I got after finishing another book in another series by the same author. I am really glad I did! A case of mistaken identity gets one girl kidnapped so her powers as a firestarter can be developed. While that situation gets ironed out, I was left wondering about the other girl, the one who supposedly should have been taken instead. But it didn’t bother me enough to detract from the story. I would like to read more in this series as I am becoming a real fan of CJ Archer!
  • Game On by R.E. Rowe seemed to me like a cross between Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.  It was a great story. Again, Amazon says it’s for 5th – 12th grades, and that might account for the fact that it was an easy read, but the story really carried me along. Sure, the characters are kids, but they were interesting kids with talents and abilities that they were willing to use to save the world. More than the world, actually. If you liked either Doctorow’s or Card’s books, you will likely enjoy this book.
  • I got The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu from Tor as part of their ebook club. I didn’t get it read during July, but I guess that doesn’t matter. I really enjoyed this book.  It is different from US-style science fiction in many ways — maybe more dense, less action. But I really, really liked it! There is a lot of political history there, which may not appeal to some but which made it even more interesting to me. It starts during the Cultural Revolution, and the shifting political tides entered into the story. I knew a woman whose professor parents were sent to the countryside for re-education during the Cultural Revolution, so it was interesting to me to read more aout it here. History and politics playsa part in the story, but it is definitely science fiction.And excellent science fiction, at that!
  • A Book Without Dragons by Olivia Berrier, while certainly not about dragons, is about the role of magic in our lives — the kind of magic we can create for ourselves and for others. It is a very upbeat, optimistic book. Some people won’t like it at all for that very reason, but I liked it a lot. Is it the best book I’ve ever read? No. Was it worth reading? Yes. I hope you will give it a try.

And the short fiction:

  • Witch Hunt by Annie Bellet came in a collection I purchased some time ago and have slowly been working my way through.  I like Bellet’s writing. As I have said before, I am not as much a fan of novellas or other short fiction as I am of longer novels, but I liked this one. The story was good and kept my interest. The characters include a unicorn — the only thing that really gave me any pause in the whole book. I think I skimmed over his involvement! But give this book a try. I think you;ll like it.
  • Forged in Blood by K.F. Breene was another in that collection, and I am unable to find it anywhere at Amazon or Kobo. It seems to be a prequel to Chosen, which I now want to read. This was a good book, and I really enjoyed reading it.

So that’s it for August.

August reading, part 1

August wasn’t as good as July, but I still managed to read 15 books and two pieces of shorter fiction. No audiobooks in August, though; I was in the car but not by myself so I haven’t finished Book 4 of The Demon Wars Saga. Hopefully I’ll get that one done in a few days here and then start on the next one.

So, the non-fiction book I read was Tents, Tortoises, and Tailgates: My  Life as a Wildlife Biologist  by Scott Lillie. I enjoyed the book. Again, a lot of what appealed to me about  it was the fact that I was familiar with many of the places Lillie lived and worked. But it was also interesting to read about the daily life of someone whose life is so totally different from mine. That being said, though, there was a lot I could relate to: moving, not having a home, finally “growing up” and wanting to settle down. The main negative for me was that the book could have used a good copy editor.

Last month’s mysteries were:

  • Raining Men and Corpses by Anne R. Tan was kind of fun but not very substantial. Seemed like pretty good insight into the Chinese American community. It was a quick, easy read. I enjoyed it.
  • Taboo by Casey Hill was a good book with a very good story. I am not sure how plausible the premise is: a forensic investigator trained by the FBI now working in Ireland. But I had no trouble suspending that little niggle of disbelief to really enjoy it. This is the first book in the series, and I have not read any others yet. They are all a little pricey for me, but I would definitely read more if I could get them at a decent price.
  • Electing to Murder by Roger Stelljes was an especially interesting book to read in this current election season in the US. Not that anything like what happened in the book would happen in real life! (I am not 100% convinced that I believe that it couldn’t happen, though!) Mac McRyan is a fun character, and I really enjoyed this outing with him.  I just bought another one of this series a few days ago and will be reading it pretty soon.
  • Aside from it making me feel like a terrible dog owner with really untrained dogs, I enjoyed Play Dead by Leslie O’Kane. The mystery was a good one, and I have to admit, I liked all the dogs! O’Kane offers a little  advice about training dogs along the way, which I enjoyed — although I am sure we will never train our dogs. Again, this wasn’t too taxing to read, and I would read more Allie Babcock mysteries.
  • Love and War by David Archer is the third Sam Prichard book, and I’ve been reading them in order. I was really conflicted as I read this one. Sam, of course, saves the day — again; Homeland Security takes orders from him. Not very realistic. And then there is the fact that the story is about a terrorist plot; I get enough of that in real life, I think. But none of that made me enjoy the story any less. It kept me guessing right along with Sam. The only other complaint I had about the book was that Sam and his wife talked about going someplace calm for their rescheduled honeymoon — someplace like the wheat fields of Illinois.If you’ve ever been to Illinois (where I was born and raised and educated), you’d know that we grow corn and soybeans and rice an lots of other stuff but not much wheat. But if I weren’t from there, I’m sure it might not even have registered.

I read three historical fiction books this time:

  • The Emperor’s Agent by Jo Graham was a interesting but not particularly easy to read. I think maybe there was too much waiting. And I had a little trouble with some of the flashbacks. There is a a supernatural element that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, either. But overall, I enjoyed the book.
  • The Rustlers of Pecos County was another good read by Zane Gray. It really made me wish my dad was still alive so I could tell him how much I agree with his appreciation of Gray as a writer.  The story was kind of a silly romance but it took place here in the Southwest, a part of the country I have come to love. The good guys are good and the bad guys are bad. The women are swept off their feet by the good guys. I think part of the appeal of these books for me is the happy ending. Guess I am getting old; I really like happy endings.
  • The Templar’s Cross by J.R. Tomlin is so completely a mystery that I almost hate to put it here under historical fiction. But it takes place in Scotland in the Middle ages, so it qualifies to be here, too. The mystery concerns Templar treasure, always an interesting topic for speculation. Everyone is out to get what they want from the hero, but he is able to work his way through all the lies to the truth. There is a second book in the series, and I want to read it.

OK, the rest will come later.

If you like MAD magazine…

you’ll want to check out the current Humble Bundle offering.  For as little as $1 you can get 11 MAD magazines. For $8 you get that 11 plus 10 more. Pay $15 or more and you get those 21 issues and get 12 more. It’s a steal, no matter which option you choose!  I paid more than $15 and got the whole bundle.  Why don’t go on over and check it out?


I had really expected it to be hard. For so long I have worked so hard, with almost no time off, and I thought I wouldn’t be able to fill my time if I didn’t go to work anymore. (I was always more than a little driven!) Turns out I was wrong! I am quite happy not going to work. I manage to keep busy – even if mostly it is with reading. But I am cooking more and writing more and feeling a lot more relaxed.

It was definitely time, I guess!

July reading, part 4

One thing about reading so much: it leads to lots of posts!

Speculative fiction:

  • The Gift of Battle by Morgan Rice taught me a lot. First of all, it taught me that 17 books in a series is too many. Rice was obviously tired of these characters by the time she got to this book. She even says that she will tell the story of one of these characters, a baby, later on – definitely a ways in the future. The editing was sloppier, too. The book was much longer than any of the others, chapter lengths were more erratic, and it just seemed like she was trying too hard to finish the series so she could be done with it.  In all honesty, I wish I had stopped reading after about book 12 – definitely before book 16. But I finished the series and on some levels, I am glad that I did. If I were reviewing the series here rather than just the final book, the review would be glowing. Reviewing the final book, I have to say I am disappointed.
  • Talon by Michael J. Ploof was a very good story. The characters are well-drawn and the story is filled with action.  It is part of a series that precedes another series, Whill of Agora, but it definitely stands alone quite well. That being said, I just downloaded the first Whill book and plan to read it soon!
  • Rise of the Dragons by Morgan Rice is the frist in another series by Morgan Rice. The story seemed a little familiar to me at times, being similar to the series I just finished, but it seemed better, more developed, better edited. I don’t know that I will read the rest of the series unless I get it for free somewhere, but reding this one reminded me that Rice is a good writer and a goos storyteller.  I had lost that idea with the end of the other series.
  • Snake Heart by Lindsay Buroker is the second in the Chains of Honor series. I like the characters and I am enjoying the story. Buroker, as I have mentioned before is probably my favorite author. This book is a good demonstration of why. Hers are books that I am not afraid to buy; I know that I will enjoy them!
  • The King’s Assassin by M. M. Brownlow was another good book. The idea of an assassin from one nation assigned to protect the ruler of another was an interesting idea that led to even more interesting events. There are two more books in this series, it seems, and I hope to read them all.
  • The Last Necromancer by C.J. Archer was an excellent story. I had read The Medium by Archer, and I liked it enough to search out others by her. I am glad I did. There is an element of romance in her books, but it isn’t so much that I cannot justify reading it. (I am not a big romance fan, but who doesn’t like a little romance from time to time?) Archer has written many series, including some that are more romance, so I probably won’t even try all of them.  These two series, Emily Chambers Spirit Medium and The Ministry of Curiosities, are interesting enough that I will try to continue reading them.
  • Dragons Lost by Daniel Arenson was the first in the trilogy Requiem for Dragons.  I read all three books in the space of about 5 days. I had read Requiem’s Song previously but that neither helped or hurt the reading of these three books. While they take place in the same world, the two series take place at vastly different times. There are actually several Requiem series in between these two. I hope to read all of them!
  • Dragons Reborn by Daniel Arenson is the second in the trilogy. I cannot recommend these books enough!

So now we are a week into August. I’ve read 3 books and a novella. Not bad! Let’s see if I can sustain the pace!

July reading, part 3

I read two non-fiction books last month:

  • The Coffee Date Guide to Freelance Journalism: A Step by Step Guide to Becoming a Freelance Writer by Leslie Patrick was an interesting book. It really got me thinking about freelance writing. It helped me come up with some ideas that I might pursue. But that is probably as far as I will go with it. It isn’t the book’s fault; it was very encouraging and informative. I am just lazy, I guess.  But if you want to pursue freelance writing, I recommend this book.
  • Weinberg on Writing: the Fieldstone Method by Gerald M. Weinberg was another encouraging, informative book. Weinberg’s suggestions were largely things I had already known about but, through laziness, had kind of forgotten about. I did many of the exercises in the book as I read it, and it was definitely useful.  As a result of reading this book, I have started a notebook of “fieldstones” – words, phrases and quotes that appeal to me on some level. I used to do that, getting the idea from Kim Stafford at a Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project writing marathon in New Orleans. I am glad to be doing that again. So the book was good. It took a little while to get into, I will admit, but overall I found it quite informative.

I read these books on writing and get inspired. Somehow or other, though, I am doing more reading than I am writing. I hope to correct that this month.

I’ll try to get to the speculative fiction later today or tomorrow.

July reading, part 2

On to the mysteries and thrillers!

I read a lot of them last month:

  • The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie is a classic, of course.  I may have read it 30 or 40 years ago when I got on an Agatha Christie kick, but I certainly didn’t remember the story. It was a good one. I didn’t know until I just got the link off Amazon that this was the first Poirot book. Maybe I will try to read them in order. That would keep me busy for a while! I am sure anyone reading this post is familiar with Christie’s mysteries, but if not, you should check them out at once.
  • Tin God by Stacy Green was a good book. Some reviewers on Amazon didn’t like the main character, but I found her to be someone I could relate to – although our lives bear no resemblance. As is true of many of the places I have lived, including the South, everyone is connected to everyone else, so things get a little messy from time to time. It confused me a little at first, trying to keep it all straight in my head! I hope you’ll give this book a try.
  • An Aria of Omens by Patrice Greenwood is actually the third book in this series, of which I had only read the first one, but that wasn’t a problem. The story definitely stands well on its own and doesn’t even provide too many spoilers about what happens in the second book. I like this series because it takes place in Santa Fe, and even though I am not part of that New Mexico by any stretch of the imagination, it is fun to read about. I know lots of people who go to the Opera and would fit right in these stories. Some reviewers on Amazon didn’t like the ending, but it didn’t bother me. These are fun books to read!
  • Raspberry Jam by Carolyn Wells is an old book, but I enjoyed it. I hadn’t realized just how old the book was until just now. Wells died in 1942, having been born during the Civil War, so it is no wonder that her “science” is a little dated! It is a locked room mystery, and Fleming Stone and his assistant are finally able to solve it. It was a fun, easy read.
  • The Grave  Man by David Archer is the first book in this series, and I am really sold on it! Sam Prichard, a medically retired cop turned PI, is a likable character and the story was good. Many reviewers on Amazon weren’t so happy with it, though, so I cannot guarantee you will be. But I hope you will give it a try.
  • Death Sung  Softly by David Archer is the second book in the series. I am trying to read them in order, but that may not happen. I got the first three free, so I know I will read the third book, but then the next one I got is 5, I think. We’ll see if I want to hold out and get 4 before I break down and read this one. This story makes Prichard out to be even more amazing – maybe almost too much. But he solves the case and he gets to live happily every after. I am going to keep reading these. I hope you will, too.
  • Mean Woman Blues by Julie Smith is another Skip Langdon book. #9, actually. I am reading them really out of order, but that’s OK. I love Skip, and I love books about New Orleans. If you like female cop stories, you will love this series. This particular book was excellent, bringing an end – I hope – to one of the bad guys who have been plaguing Skip. But I’m not worried; I am sure there is someone else ready to take his place.

OK. That’s it for the mysteries and thrillers. I still have speculative fiction and non-fiction to cover.

July reading, part 1

Last month I read 20 books and 2 pieces of shorter fiction. I listened to an audiobook, too. Obviously, that’s more than I am going to post about all at once, so I’ll start with the easy ones.

The audiobook was the third book in the Demon Wars Saga by R.A. Salvatore, The Demon Apostle. Each of these books is done in three parts, with 5-6 hours of audio per part, so this constitutes a serious investment of time. But they are worth it. This one didn’t end the way I would have liked – or any way that I might have been able to tolerate, but my son was quick to point out that Salvatore is not known for his happy endings. The story was wonderful and the audio production flawless. (They are done by Graphic Audio. Unfortunately, they are no longer available from them.  I got mine as part of a Humble Bundle.) I still have a lot of this series to go, but I will definitely be reading Salvatore after I am done with these.  Unfortunately, his ebooks are as expensive as paperbacks, so I will probably just try to dig out my son’s old copies. They are around here somewhere!

I read two pieces of short fiction:

I know that I do not really enjoy short stories very much because they are short and it is hard to write good ones, but these were a little longer than short stories and I had hopes. But I was disappointed.  Vampire Dead-tective #1 had an interesting premise: a bond between a human and a vampire as long as the human is wearing a ring. I didn’t like the characters very much, and that made it difficult to get into the story. Maybe the other installments (There are 5; this one was 83 pages, so all together they are a longish novel.) would change that for me, but I am not counting on it. Also, the writing was filled with cliches. It seemed like laziness more than a conscious decision to include them. This book was OK since it was free on Amazon, but I won’t shell out $2.99 for any of the other installments.

A Gift of Shadows was part of a 15 book set I got through Kobo that is no longer available. I cannot find any evidence of Nick Webb writing a series that this would fit into. The story was good but too short. I assumed it was like a prologue to a series, so I was OK with that. But now that I can’t find the series, I am a little disappointed. I found The Maskmaker’s Apprentice by Endi Webb (who looks just like Nick Webb!), and so I guess that is what is leads into.

I read three historical novels:

I didn’t like this Cash Laramie as much as the first one I read, but it was still good. I really liked the interplay between Laramie and Miles in the first one, and this book didn’t feature Miles nearly as much.

The Good Knight was a “Medieval Mystery” that kept me interested and taught me a lot about the times. I really enjoyed it. The mystery was good, and the characters were engaging. I hope to read more of this series.

I read Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulsen some years ago, and at first that was a problem for me with this book. But this Soldier’s Heart is every bit as good in its own way. I struggled with the connection between soldier’s heart and this story for a long time because the book is more about the families of the soldiers than the soldiers themselves. But the families became people I cared about. The story is based on fact and written by a descendant of the families in question, so that makes it even more interesting to me. If you like Civil War stories that aren’t all about the killing, this is the book for you!

OK… That’s all for now. I’ll be back later with more!


Big changes ahead

Well, I did it. Yesterday I received an offer to teach part time this fall and I turned it down. I have been thinking since May that I was ready to retire, but I wasn’t convinced I would have the guts to really do it. But I seem to have done it. 

    I am afraid I will miss teaching a lot, but I know it was creating a lot of stress that I really don’t need. Most of the stress was self imposed, but that’s who I am. The only way to avoid the stress that I could see was to quit. And right now, at least, I am really relieved. 

    I did leave myself a little bit of an out, though. I told them I might be available in the spring. I hope by then I am so happy being retired that is don’t want to think about it. But just in case I’m not…

    Lots of reading and not much else!

    I don’t know about where you live, but here in southwestern New Mexico it has been exceptionally hot.  We have had way more 100°+ days this year than last year, for sure, and everyone says it’s way more than normal.

    We don’t have air conditioning in our RV, so we have been sitting in front of fans a lot lately. There is generally a good breeze, and fortunately, we really like hot weather. But even so, we wouldn’t mind a break!

    As a result, I have really gotten a lot of reading done this month – 8 books so far. It is just too hot to do much of anything else. Sunday is the first chance of a sub 100° day, so for at least the next 5 days, I expect the reading to continue.

    It will definitely take more than one post to report on all of my July reading!

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