Random Thoughts

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

November Reading, part 2

Here we go for part 2 of last month’s reading!

I only read four books of speculative fiction last month:


  • Requiem’s Prayer by Daniel Arenson was the third book in the Dawn of Dragons trilogy. I am not sure why I love Arenson’s books as much as I do, but I do! The writing is good; the story is good; the characters are excellent. What’s not to love?  That being said, though, I did not like this book as much as I liked the first two. This one was so much about the demons and so gruesome that I found myself skimming over parts of it. But I think that is due my weirdness more than to Arenson’s writing. The trilogy ends happily enough, but they sure had a hard time getting there!
  • Spin by Robert Charles Wilson was Tor’s November ebook selection.  I am happy to say that I got the book read in the “right” month and that I loved it! Yes, it is about a catastrophe that hits Earth, but it is also about people. The three main characters, a brother and sister and the son of their housekeeper, are complex people. They each interact with the catastrophe, known as the Big Blackout, and its aftermath on a different level, but their lives remain connected regardless of what happens in the outer world. I really recommend this book. And I recommend you check out Tor’s ebook club. December’s book is available until December 7th, so you have to act quickly if you want to get started this month.
  • Star Fall by Dean Wesley Smith is the seventh book in the series but the first one I have read. I really enjoyed it. There were some things that seemed a little silly, like an annual race that goes from one end of their ship to the other and back again, but overall, it was quite good.  This book apparently provides clues into the background of the series, but they meant nothing to me in that context. The good news is that they did not detract at all from my enjoyment of the book. I definitely want to read more in the series.
  • The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson was a truly wonderful book. The story was a simple one on the surface: a forger had to reconstruct the emperor’s soul. (Well, that doesn’t sound all that simple when I read it here!) But the characters are what truly makes it the excellent book that it is. I cannot recommend it enough!

I read one historical fiction, book 3 in Paul Banister’s Forgotten Emperor series, Arthur Invictus. I liked this one quite a bit. It was about war but not one constant battle after another. In this book, Arthur takes the battle to the Romans. As I have said before, I am enjoying this series both for the stories and for the insight into life in Britain at that time.

I read one piece of short fiction, Rice Cooker Revenge by S. J. Pajonas.  It was a totally silly story, but I have to admit that I kind of enjoyed it.  It is, as I am sure you might have guessed from the title, about a rice cooker who gets revenge on a mean chef by helping his apprentice. Like I said, silly, but fun.

Early last month I finished R.A Salvatore’s Demon Wars Saga audiobooks. I listened to Immortalis. There were many times throughout the series that I was ready to give up because I didn’t like the way the story was going, but I am glad that I continued to the end. It was definitely worth it! This was an extremely satisfying installment in an excellent story. I cannot recommend it enough!

I have started on my December reading. Let’s see where it goes!






November Reading

I read 13 books and listened to one audiobook last month. Not a record, by any means, but not bad.

The nonfiction book I read was Hope on Earth: A Conversation by Paul R. Ehrlich and Michael Charles Tobias. This was an interesting discussion about the environment. The two men may not agree on all the specifics (Is it OK to eat chicken?), but they are in agreement that we need to do something to save the planet. Population control is a big topic, but it is not the only one. The reader is given the chance to sit in on a casual conversation between two very bright men and learn. I recommend it.

I read five mysteries:


  • Snarl by Celina Grace was a good story. It is the 4th book in the series. Kate Redman, the lead detective an protagonist in the story, has been off work for a while and is just now back. It seems that her co-workers treat her a little oddly, a little too much with kid gloves, but I haven’t read the earlier books, so I don’t know if this is because she had been injured or if this is how she is always treated. I enjoyed the book and will try to read more in the series.
  • But Not Forgotten by B.J. Bourge takes place in Southeast Louisiana, so I was bound to like it. And I did. I can’t say I was totally surprised by the ending, but it wasn’t obvious, either. I plan to read more of this series.
  • Inferno by Casey Hill is the second book in this series, and I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the first one. In case you don’t know, Reilly Steel is a forensic investigator trained by the FBI and working in Ireland. The different locale is an interesting addition in this series. The murders were pretty gruesome in this one — not so much in a blood and guts way, but more in thinking about the manner of death. I really liked this book, and I am continuing on through the series.
  • Hidden is the third book in this series by Casey Hill, and I recommend it, too. What I like about this series is that, so far at least, the cases are all completely different. This one involved some interesting tattoos and some missing children. Normally, I stay away from book in which children disappear, but this was done well and had some interesting twists and turns along the way.
  • Murder at the Art & Craft Fair by Steve Demaree was surprisingly fun. I had tried the first book in this series — twice, as a matter of fact — and I just couldn’t read it. This one (book 6, I believe) was much more enjoyable. The main characters are two semi-retired police detectives. They are now both in love, and that detracted a little from the mystery, but it wasn’t too bad. I think I am going to go back and give Book 1 a try again.

Well, it has been a crazy morning, and I have only gotten this far in my reading after more than 2 hours of “working” on it. I’ll try to finish tomorrow!


A little plug

A couple days ago I received an email from an old friend, Nell Jones, sharing a link to a YouTube video that serves as a trailer for her most recent novel, Under the Surface.  Nell and her co-author, Penny Stewart, were working on this book a few years ago when Nell and I were in a writing group that met regularly to discuss our current projects. I was excited to see that they had published the book, so I bought it. And I read it. And I am encouraging you to read it, too.

Set in a small village in Italy, Under the Surface  offers a lot of insight into village life. I know that the authors traveled to Italy as part of their research, and I think that really paid off. As you know if you read this blog, I love books where I have a chance to really learn about other places and other cultures. I felt like that happened with this book. And, on top of it, I really enjoyed the story. I think you might, too.

October Reading

I didn’t do much reading in October. Lots of reasons for it, not the least of it was finally getting a Netflix subscription again. But enough excuses…

I read one non-fiction book, A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey by Matthew Fox.  Since I first really became acquainted with Thomas Merton’s writings about 10 years ago, I have read a lot both by and about him. And I have loved it all. This book was good, but I was slightly disappointed that Mr. Fox seemed to be talking as much about his own journey as he did about Merton’s. Nonetheless, it was an interesting book and helped me to see things in a different way.  I recommend it if you are interested in Merton or in spirituality.

I read four mysteries:

  • Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was, well, Sherlock Holmes. I have listened to some of these stories before and may have read some, but I have to admit I didn’t really remember them. I don’t really have to try to sell you on Sherlock Holmes; you either like him or you don’t; you either enjoy reading the stories or you don’t. I, for one, enjoy reading them.  They are some of the best short stories I have read.
  • The Daydreamer Detective by S.J. Pajonas was a fun read. As you may know, I have done a lot of research about feudal Japan, and now any book set in Japan captures my interest pretty easily. This was a modern-day story, but it still helped me to understand the culture a little better. Pajonas has written a lot of books of different types, all set in Japan. I think I will be reading a lot of them.
  • The Case of the Defunct Adjunct by Frankie Bow was hilarious, not so much because of the story (which involved a murder, after all!) but because it so accurately described my experiences as a faculty member in higher ed; “education” is all about making the students happy.  Bow teachers at a university in her day job, and she really nailed this aspect of the book. If course, there is some exaggeration, but not as much as you might think. The mystery was OK; some of the characters weren’t as developed as I would have liked. But maybe in the later books in the series…
  • Dying to Get Published by Judy Fitzwater tested my patience at times, but overall, I enjoyed the book.  The hero, Jennifer Marsh, is just a little too flaky for my liking. She doesn’t see things through hardly at all. That being said, though, I enjoyed the book. I wouldn’t necessarily rush out to buy the other 7 books in the series, but I would read them if I got them.

I read two fantasy novels:

  • Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear was the Tor eBook Club selection in October, and I actually read the book during that month! Hurray! It was an excellent book, and I am really glad I read it. It is a story that hints at the past (The hero is the grandson of the Great Khan). Liz Bourke, on the Tor eBook Club site said:

I said once—probably more than once, actually, but at least once where it’s written down—that Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts was the epic fantasy I’d been waiting my whole life to read. And never knew that I’d spent my whole life lacking it until I read it at long last.

I know that sounds a little melodramatic or a little over the top, but I have to agree. There is something about this book. It is elegant. It is a great story. I cannot recommend it enough!

  • Requiem’s  Hope by Daniel Arenson is the second book in the Dawn of Dragons trilogy. I read the first one back in April and I just got around to reading this one now. (In the meantime, I read a trilogy that takes place well after this one.) These books are excellent. There are lessons about acceptance and courage and love, but they never overshadow the story. Arenson is becoming one of my favorite authors!

I read one piece of historical fiction: Arthur Imperator by Paul Bannister. It is the second book in the series. I read Book 5, A Fragile Peace, back in May, and I have to say I liked that one much more. Part of that is because of the subject matter; Imperator is more about war than the later book was, and I just don’t enjoy reading about war. But I still enjoyed the book. I think Bannister’s writing has gotten better since this second installment. I will probably read more of the series before I am done. If you like reading about King Arthur with a dash of history thrown in, you would probably enjoy these books.

I didn’t read any short fiction last month. I just really have to be in the tight frame of mind for it, and I just wasn’t in October.

Since I drove by myself from New Mexico to Illinois for my mother’s 90th birthday, I listened to two audiobooks:

These are books 5 and 6 in Salvatore’s DemonWars Saga. Ascendance was my least favorite of all the books, but it was an excellent book. I just didn’t like the turn the story took. (Now that I have finished Book 7, the last one, I can see it was necessary, but I didn’t like it at the time!) Transcendence kind of wandered from the cast of characters I had come to know and love, but the story was so much more to my liking than Ascendance had been, that I didn’t mind at all.  All these audiobooks were done by Graphic Audio. These particular titles are no longer available from their website, but some of them can be found on Amazon.

So that was it for October. November isn’t off to a great start, but I hope it will pick up as I recover from my two weeks away from home. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

Some thoughts on my reading

In September I started but did not finish several books. I don’t know if it was the books or of it was me. I may pick some of them up and try to finish them this month, but I am just as likely not to.

I mostly read free ebooks, and at first I “bought” all of them that I could find in any genre that I read and even some that I don’t usually read.  Now I have thousands of book in my libraries. And because of that, I think, I am becoming much more discriminating in what I read.

I used to finish any book that I started. No matter what. And I read some pretty bad books. But I had invested money — even if it was a small amount of money — so I had to finish it. So I did.

When I got my first Kobo about 5 years ago, I started reading lots of free books. And I read them all — good or not so good. I think that was a leftover from the days of buying used books. But gradually that has changed. Now I don’t finish a book unless I want to know how the story ends.

I recognize that another part of this change is due to the size of my libraries. With so many books, I can afford to “put one aside” and “pick up” another. What doesn’t appeal to me today may well catch my fancy next week or next month or next year. And I can afford to hang on to those books forever because they aren’t taking up valuable space on my too-small bookshelf.

I do, of course, read more than just free ebooks. But I have tested the author and the series before I invest money. (That is the genius of offering the first book for free — if it’s good, people will buy the next one.)

Ebooks have changed the way I read, and that change has been a very positive one.



September reading, part 2

On to speculative fiction!

  • The Sorcery Code by Dima Zales and Anna Zaires was the last book in a collection that I have been working on for a long time, but it was definitely worth the wait! A sorcerer, wanting to make magic available to regular people, creates a magical object — but it is so much more than just an object! I really enjoyed this book. The story was good, and the characters were interesting. There were lots of new ideas in this book, too.  I highly recommend it!
  • Pocket Full of Posies by Angela Roquet was the second book in this series.  I read the first one ages ago and liked it, and I am glad that I finally continued with these books.  Lana Harvey is a reaper with a very complicated life! The story is crazy, but it was a fun read.
  • For the Birds by Angela Roquet is the third book in this six-book series.  Lana’s life gets even more complicated, of course. It was fun!
  • Star Nomad by Lindsay Buroker is Book 1 in a six-book science fiction series by Buroker. She is without a doubt my favorite author these days; I love her fantasy books. And I am happy to say I loved this book, too.  I look forward to reading the rest of these books! As usual in her books, the main character is a very strong female, and she is a wonderful character. The story was excellent. Please give this book — or any of Buroker’s other books — a try if you are not familiar with her work. If you already read  Buroker, I don’t have to try to convince you to read her; you already know how great she is!


My historical fiction book this month was The Spirit of the Border by Zane Gray. I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as I did the others I have read by him. That is not the fault of the writing but more the subject matter. The Border, in this book, is just west of Pittsburgh and the action revolves not around cattle rustlers or Mexican revolutionaries but rather around those people who pushed the boundaries of this country to the west so there could be cattle rustlers later on.  The book, which is supposed to be based on journals left by Gray’s ancestors, tells the story of missionaries trying to convert the Native Americans. It doesn’t paint a wonderful picture of anyone — and that is probably a good thing. Gray places much of the blame for the problems between the Native Americans and the whites on what he calls renegades — whites who deliberately tried to turn the natives against the missionaries. I cannot speak the the accuracy of Gray’s depiction of events, but it was convincing. The book didn’t have a happy ending, though, and there was a lot of hate along the way. It was a good book, but I cannot say that I liked it.

Ghost in the Coffee Machine by Charity Tahmaseb was a little confusing to me, maybe because it never really engaged me. And that could be because it was too short. I might have enjoyed it more if I had read all 5 of these episodes, one right after the other. As it was, I never really got into it. I think that is something to think about when deciding how to publish books — I understand getting more than one title out there to build readership, but for people like me it might be better to publish them in one volume. I could, of course, be the only person in the world who reacts that way, but I doubt it!

I finally finished the audiobook version of Mortalis by R.A. Salvatore. That is the fourth book in the Demon Wars Saga.  It was as good as all the others. I know I said after the third book that I didn’t like the ending, and I still don’t, but Salvatore needed to do that to allow the series to grow. And it definitely grew in this book. I cannot recommend these books enough. And the Graphic Audio audiobooks are wonderful!

October is already zipping along, and I’ve read 2 books so far. Let’s see how I do this month!

September reading

Last month’s reading tapered off from what I did in August.  Actually, it fell off the side of a cliff.  There was no tapering about it.

I read 2 non-fiction books:

  • Million Dollar Professionalism for the Writer by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta  was a short but worthwhile book about how to avoid shooting yourself in the foot as an author – how not to burn bridges or alienate people unnecessarily.   It is, as it says, about being a professional. A lot of it seems like common sense, but obviously — judging from the real-life examples in the book — it needs to be said. It is a good book for anyone thinking about writing as a career.
  • We Were Soldiers, Too: The Unknown Battle to defend the Demilitarized Zone Against North Korea During the Cold War by Bob Kern was an interesting read. I admit to not knowing much about the Korean Conflict or what goes on near the DMZ today, so I really found it enlightening. The book is basically the stories of several men who served there since the war “ended”. Probably because of that, it was a little uneven. Sometimes terms were explained in more detail than was necessary and other times they were not explained at all. The book could have used a good copy editor, too. But in spite of those complaints, I am glad I read the book. I learned things that I had not known. Kern has written a couple other books in this series. I probably won’t read them, but you might if you are more interested in the military than I am.


I only read four mysteries, three of them by authors I knew I liked, and one by an author that I can now add to that list:

  • Deadly Lode by Randall Reneau was a good story. This is the first in a 4-book series. I have already read the last two books, so there were some things that I knew that Trace didn’t as he moved through his days. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the story, although parts of it were kind of bittersweet as a result of that knowledge. As always with this series, I learned more about mining and geology. I will definitely try to read the second book before too long. Reneau has another series started, and I already have the first book in that one, so I will probably try it soon. Reneau is a good writer and a good storyteller.
  • St. Paul Conspiracy by Roger Stelljes is the second book in what is currently a six-book series. It is the third one I have read, and I enjoyed this one as much as I did the others. Of course, I was again privy to some knowledge that Mac didn’t have since I have read books number three and four, but that was not a problem at all. Mac McRyan is a likable guy, and he and his friends are good cops. I really enjoyed this book!
  • A Bodkin for the Bride by Patrice Greenwood is the fourth book in the series and the third one I have read. I enjoyed it a lot. Sometimes it seems like Ellen is able to be a little too involved in the murders that take place, but I can suspend disbelief enough to really enjoy the stories. In addition, I have learned a lot about a wide range of topics. As I have noted before, I really like learning something from the books I read.
  • Blood Orchids by Toby Neal is, amazingly, the first book in this series. I really enjoyed it. Set in Hawaii and written by someone who was raised there, it offered a lot of knowledge about the islands. The story was good, and the characters were engaging. I plan to read more of these books.

OK, that’s all the time I have right now. I’ll finish the report tomorrow!

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…

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