Recent Reading

I managed to finish reading a couple of books last weekend, not that I’m in any danger of catching up with the To Be Read shelves, and I can’t even remember what’s on my Kindle.  But I do my best.  This afternoon at work I had a job to do that involved recoding information on an online bookkeeping site (the client and her business are located several states away).  The software is slow to begin with.  My work computer is several years old and still runs Windows XP and IE8.  After each transaction, the screen refreshed so slowly that to keep from banging my head on the desk I pulled out my Kindle and found I could read a page or so while the screen was blank.  I’m not kidding.  I spent an hour and a half making those corrections as fast as the computer could handle them–and reading while I waited for each one to process.  Heck of a way to read, but better than staring at that blank screen in frustration.

I recently finished reading James Scott Bell’s Conflict & Suspense on my Kindle–excellent book.  I really enjoy Bell’s writing on writing–one of these days I’ll have to try one of his novels.  Here’s the review I wrote for the Houston Bay Area RWA newsletter.  (I also posted a review of Bell’s Plot & Structure here.)

A couple of weeks ago I read Darynda Jones’ First Grave on the Right, a book that won a Golden Heart® in 2009.  Three years later it’s on the shelves with two sequels, and another due out this fall.  I’ve only read the first one (but there are two more on my TBR stack), and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  It’s a humorous blend of mystery and romance, with a heroine who is a “part-time private investigator and full-time grim reaper.”  Charlie sees dead people, which isn’t always as much of an advantage in her p.i. work as you might imagine.  As for the hero, if that’s what he is, well, Charlie spends the span of the book trying to figure out what he is. 

Next I read Joan Hess’ latest Claire Malloy mystery, Deader Homes and Gardens.  I’ve been reading this series (and Hess’ Maggody mysteries, too) since it began, and wouldn’t miss one.  Deader Homes moved a little more slowly than most–or possibly I was just reading more slowly.  The large cast was occasionally confusing, but Claire’s daughter Caron and her BFF Inez (approaching their senior year in high school) got themselves into as much trouble as usual while helping Claire in her unofficial sleuthing.  And Claire, as usual, gets to the bottom of things in her own unconventional way.  She continues to be one of my favorite cozy detectives.

Looking for a change of pace, I opened Zoe Archer’s Collision Course on my Kindle.  This is a very short novel, published by Carina Press, and falls into the subgenre of science fiction romance.   It tilts more toward the (quite explicit) romance end of the scale, and I would have liked to see more of the universe Archer created.  But trap an independent scavenger heroine and a military pilot hero alone together in her small space ship–well, once or twice I wanted to tell them to get out of that bunk and get on with the mission.  By the time the story ended, though, I was ready to download the sequel.  If you like steamy action romance, Collision Course is for you.

I’m still reading the new biography of Queen Elizabeth II.  No hurry–that’s my coffee table book.  On my Kindle I’m enjoying Edgar Rice Burrough’s delightfully old-fashioned The Land That Time Forgot

When I finished Deader Homes and Gardens a few days ago, I had my usual what-shall-I-read-next quandary, until I opened the newspaper the next morning to see multiple stories about the movie version of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.  I read the book last year, but I hadn’t revisited the harsh world of Panem.  So I picked up the second book, Catching Fire.  So far, just as harsh and compelling as the first book.   Definitely not an old-fashioned tale.

Back to Borders, for the last time?

I made another pass through Borders this morning, not looking for anything in particular but unable to resist the increasing discounts.  As it turned out, this is also the last weekend the store is honoring Borders Plus cards with an extra ten per cent off.

The store is still neat and clean, not as crowded as it was the first weekend of the sale but still busier than it ever was before they pulled the plug.  The shelving has become a bit random, but there’s still a lot of stock.  Apparently they are still shipping books to the stores rather than leave them languish in the warehouse (or be stripped and returned to the publishers).

I started with the science fiction shelves.  I haven’t kept up with sf in recent years the way I once did, although I still order fairly regularly from the Science Fiction Book Club.  I do love a good space adventure now and then, and on my last trip to Borders I picked up the first in a series by Ann Aguirre.  Haven’t read it yet, but I found two more installments on the shelf and picked them up (still missing number three).  I also bought Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson, a book I missed when it first came out in 1998.  Alternate history with a gorgeous cover.

Then I went over to the romance shelves, where I found Kieran Kramer’s When Harry Met Molly, a double finalist (for Best First Book and Best Regency) in this year’s Rita contest.  How could someone who loves (and writes) humor resist that title?

On the mystery shelves I found Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn, a handsome trade paperback from a predominantly romance publisher (Mira) which labels the book simply historical fiction.  This is the fourth volume (I think) in a series, so I’ll be jumping into the story.

Back to the front of the store, where I picked up two novels by Melanie Benjamin.  I blame these on National Public Radio, which carried an interview with Benjamin this week about her current release, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, a novel based on the life of its historical heroine, less than three feet tall, who refused to hide from the world.  On the next shelf down was Benjamin’s previous novel, Alice I Have Been, based on the life on Alice Liddell, the original Alice in Wonderland.  I’ve bought a lot of books that I might otherwise never have heard about since our Houston NPR station split into an all-talk channel and an all-music channel.  Maybe I should be listening to the music side more.

Meanwhile, the invisible To Be Read shelf in my Kindle continues to expand.  On the previous Borders expedition, I bought the last volume in a set of four by Zoë Archer, an alternate nineteenth-century fantasy series called The Blades of the Rose.  I didn’t find any more of those today, but I remembered seeing the series at Amazon.  Checked this afternoon and found all four bundled into one file for $9.99.  Click.  Now available on my Kindle, four more novels . . .

Not a contemporary setting in the stack today.  I am currently reading It Had to Be You, by my good friend Cheryl Bolen, on my Kindle, a novel set in Los Angeles before and during (and maybe after–I’m at the 60% mark) World War II.  The serious side of the novel deals with the unconscionable treatment of the Japanese living in California in those years;  the fun part covers Hollywood and teems with well-known names of writers and actors.  Cheryl’s done a terrific job of making life in the Los Angeles of the thirties and forties an integral part of the novel.

Is there a twelve step program for book-aholics?

The Going Out of Business sale at Borders Books

is more than any self-respecting book junkie can resist, of course.  I pulled into the parking lot at my local Borders about 10:45 this morning and had to search for a parking space.  The store teemed with shoppers filling baskets, and there was already a sort of jumble sale air about the place.  Signs proclaimed “Discounts Up to 40%,” but most of the rack signs promised ten to thirty percent.  They were still honoring Borders cards for another ten percent off, so I walked out with five paperbacks, two DVDs, and a greeting card for $53.

I surely didn’t need more books (or movies):  I got two in the mail a few days ago, and downloaded five to my Kindle this week, thanks to a sale at Amazon.  So I took advantage of this trip to buy books by authors I haven’t read yet, women I either met or heard good things about at the recent RWA conference, all somewhere on the paranormal to science fiction romance scale: Molly Harper, Zoe Archer, Marjorie Liu, Robin D. Owens, and Ann Aguirre.  Also replaced my ancient videotape copy of Cabaret with a DVD and picked up a copy of Master and Commander, which I keep missing on TV, just for the pleasure of spending an evening looking at Russell Crowe.  I was also looking for the daybooks I use for record keeping, which I bought at Borders last year, but apparently they’d had the foresight not to order anything dated 2012.

I’m always sorry to see any book store close, be it a Big Box giant or a tiny used paperback shop in a strip mall.  Borders isn’t the first to vanish.  I remember a chain called MediaPlay that flourished briefly in the mid to late 90s selling books, music, movies (on videocassettes) and computer software.  And BookStop, which was devoured by Barnes & Noble.  Then the big guys pushed a lot of the little ones under.

But in all honesty, I can’t say that I’ve done much to support the brick and mortars over the last few years.  I’ve belonged to various branches of the Doubleday Book Club for decades: the Science Fiction Book Club and the Mystery Guild since the late 1960s, and Rhapsody, the romance club, more recently.  The SF and Mystery clubs kept me going for years when I lived far from the nearest book store, long before Amazon invented on line book sales.

These days I buy books on line from the clubs and from Amazon.  I buy regularly from a wonderful independent book store called Katy Budget Books, but I have only set foot in that store a few times (it’s about fifty-five miles from my home); KBB is the book supplier for West Houston RWA, bringing books by our guest speakers, our members, and other books of interest to our chapter meetings every month.  Now and again I stop at the local Barnes & Noble, usually when I have a gift card.  I shop at Half-Price Books a lot.

As for Borders, about a year and a half ago I did a lot of Christmas shopping there, and in the process picked up one of their upgraded loyalty cards.  It paid for itself on that shopping spree, and brought me 40% discount coupons by email on a regular basis.  I used those mostly to order DVD sets (mostly of old BBC TV series) from Borders.com.  I understand Borders came late to the ebook party, but so did I.  I bought a Kindle, and I don’t know much about the Kobo, but I believe it falls well below the Kindle and the B&N Nook in sales.

Maybe the decline of the Big Box book stores and the rise of independent publishing will open new doors for small specialized booksellers.  There are still a a few of those thriving in the Houston area.  Those of us who love books and book stores should be doing more to support them.

Just what I need–a reason to buy more books.

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