I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but The Fold by Peter Clines looked like an interesting read, and it was – though not in the way I expected.

The FoldThe novel details a unique program in which scientists have created a new mode of transportation, dubbed the Albuquerque Door, in which people can cover long distances by simply stepping through the doorway. Unlike a transporter on Star Trek in which a person is disassembled down to the very molecules that make them up and then reassembled on the other end, the door simply folds great distances together, like points on a piece of paper. You step through one door and come out the other, miles away.

Mike Erikson, a teacher with an annoying eidetic memory, is recruited to report on the project’s viability in the face of pending budget cuts. He’s immediately regarded as an outsider and a spy by the scientists working closest to the project and, as a result, begins to suspect they are hiding some big secret about its inner workings. Of course, as the story progresses, he’s proven right.

None of the scientists can actually pinpoint how or why the fold works, they’re just elated that it does. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about how the idea was fueled by some nonsensical equations in an old 1880s text written by a man named Aleksander Koturovic. The scientists were all drunk at the time, but they didn’t let that stop them from running the numbers anyway. Then they turned on the device and, voila, it worked.

“And to this day we don’t know how,” one of the scientists boasts.

So much for a solid sci-fi story. Instead, the reader is suddenly thrust into a realm of pure fantasy make-believe bullshit. And, sadly, the plausibility of the story just goes downhill from there.

To his credit, Clines slowly builds the mystery and intrigue surrounding the doorway. There is a palpable sense of awe and wonder about the ramifications of such a machine could mean, as well as its unintended consequences.

Unfortunately, Clines is unable to sustain the scientific part of the novel, casting away intriguing scientific theory in exchange for big guns, C4 explosives, creepy crab people and Cthulhu’s multi-tentacled flying cousin. It’s an unexpected turn of events, and one that will keep you reading, but it’s an unsatisfying freefall from the scientific possibilities the story first mines.

As a horror fan, I loved the chaotic conclusion, but sci-fi fans will justly groan about the lost opportunities.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

So what’s wrong with keeping readers hooked and wanting to read more?

That’s what a well-written book should do, isn’t it? Yet, some folks are grumbling over Amazon’s new payment system for e-books in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library programs. As long as readers keep turning the pages, the author’s profits will increase. If readers “close” the book, or in the case of e-books shut off their Kindle, before page ten, the author gets nothing.

Quite frankly, if you can’t keep someone turning the page beyond page ten, there’s something fundamentally wrong with your book in the first place and you probably don’t deserve to get paid for it.

kindle screenThe ten-page rule is just one of several hoops a good writer must jump through in order to entice readers. When you think about it, readers are making numerous decisions about what to read right from the start. Everything from the genre of the book to the cover of the book is considered. The back cover copy is another vital component in the selection process, as are the inside blurbs and reviews from other authors. The first page read-through is probably the most important litmus test.

I’ve read plenty of sample chapters of books on Amazon and I can generally tell if a book will interest me enough for me to buy it and read on. I look for stories that are well-written, without obvious typos or grammatical errors, with interesting characters and situations. If it doesn’t grab me right away, I’ll shut the book and look for something else.

There are way too many books out there to have to settle on something I don’t think I will enjoy reading for the next week or two. We’re talking about a serious commitment of time, so I want to make sure I’m getting a good read for my buck.

Even so, for each book I do pick up, I generally will allow more than ten pages to see if the author can pique my interest. I’m generous in that regard, I suppose, because I am an author. I appreciate what writers go through in order to share their passion for the written word with others. I will grant other writers the benefit of the doubt in order to see where their story will take me.

Generally, my cutoff point is around page thirty or even fifty. If the book hasn’t thoroughly engrossed me by then, I will cut my losses and move on to something else.  Or, in the alternative, I may put the book aside for a while and begin something else. At some point, I may return to the book I put aside and give it a second chance.

E-books are another matter for me. I’ve talked about this before, but the bottom line is I don’t like reading books on the Kindle or on the computer. I prefer to hold a physical book in my hand, flipping through the pages at my leisure, or flipping back to a pervious chapter if I so chose. I like being able to gauge where I am in the book by looking at my bookmark. I like the idea that I’ve made progress or that I only have a few chapters to go before I reach the end, something you really have no sense of when reading an electronic version.

That said, I’ve got a lot of books stockpiled on my Kindle waiting to be read. None are of the KU or KLL variety. Most of the e-books on my Kindle were either purchases or freebies picked up during a promotional sale. I’ve flipped through some of them, and even managed to read a couple in their entirety.   But most have sat unopened and unread, mainly because of my preference for physical books.

As long as Amazon continues to pay handsomely for e-book purchases, I’m okay with the new KU/KLL rules. These are borrowed books, basically, same as in the library. You don’t get paid for books borrowed from a library, so the fact that you’re getting royalties on pages read is a bonus – even if it is a small one.

Talk about how this will force writers to change the way they write is stupid. Yes, cliffhangers and shocks will keep readers turning pages, but so will well-crafted characters and situations. A good writer will find a way to keep you turning the page, not force you to do so through some gimmick.

What very few people talk about in all of this is the fact that Amazon knows what you’re reading and how much you have read. I don’t particularly like the fact that someone is looking over my shoulder as I’m reading. That’s what these ebooks are akin to, because Amazon knows exactly how many pages you’ve read, where your bookmarks are, etc.

Talk about an invasion of privacy.

I’d much rather take a physical copy of a book and sit on the throne to read than have someone spying on me all the time.

What’s your take on the new Kindle U and KLL payment plan? Share your comments below. I’m interested in hearing from you.

 

Other takes:

 

I’ve previously written about my preference for reading print books over digital books, but it occurs to me that I also prefer paperback books over hardcover books. First, there is the matter of price. Paperbacks are less expensive, which means I can buy more paperbacks, which means I have more to read. Not that I’ll ever be able to read all the books in my collection, but more is better, right? Secondly, they take up less space. And, with as many books as I have, space is a precious commodity on my bookshelves. (Yes, I tend to hold onto my books even after reading them. I guess I’m something of a hoarder in that regard, though I consider myself a neat hoarder–everything in its proper place!)

Most of the paperbacks in my collection are in the standard size, but a growing number are in the premium size, which I actually like better.

Most of the paperbacks in my collection are in the standard size, but a growing number are in the premium size, which I actually like better.

I particularly like the new premium mass market paperbacks that come out. They are slightly taller than your standard paperback, but for some reason just feel better in my hands. The print is usually at a nicer point size and the leading is airy enough that the pages don’t feel overwhelming. A 500-page book in this format isn’t as daunting as a 500-page book in standard paperback. (Don’t believe me? Compare a Robert E. Jordan Wheel of Time novel to a Clive Cussler novel. You’ll see what I mean.) The downside, of course, is in the book’s durability. I take care when reading my books to not bend the covers or mar the spine. I like to keep my books in a like new condition when possible. I absolutely do not dog ear any pages or use rubber bands to mark my place. I also try not to eat anything while I’m reading and take care to watch where I set my book down.

Call me anal or obsessive compulsive, but that’s just the way it is with me. I’m proud of my book collection and I want to keep each book looking nice. Whenever I’m browsing the used books at McCay’s in Nashville, I’ll pass over anything that looks like it’s been run over by a bunch of grubby hands.

IMG_20150612_120338948 (640x401)The exception to the rule is when you can’t find any other version of the book, period. Then, condition of the paperback doesn’t matter as much. For instance, I’m more than happy to have my collection of beat up, well-read Ellery Queen paperbacks than not have them at all. (Why, oh why, won’t they reprint these!?) Hollywood (197x346)

Another downside of paperbacks is the wait you must endure to read the latest bestsellers. For instance, I’d love to read The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman right now, but I’ve vowed to wait until it is released in paperback first. (The good news is I only have to wait until July 28!) Fortunately, I have plenty of books to read in the meantime. Of course, you can get cheap hardcovers from time to time, and I have. Just look in the bargain bins. Books-A-Million often offers bargain hardcovers online for under $5. You can also pick up a lot of recent bestsellers that way. But still, there’s that whole bulkiness-space issue I talked about.

Just a sampling of the DK coffeetable books in my collection. These books are absolutely gorgeous to look at.

Just a sampling of the DK coffeetable books in my collection. These books are absolutely gorgeous to look at.

The only hardcover books that I purposely purchase are coffee table type books. I have a good collection of nonfiction books of that variety, I specifically like some of the books from DK Publishing, such as Universe, Earth, Prehistoric Life, Animal, Human, History, Battle, Battle At Sea, The Civil War, Commanders, Ship, Train, Car, Flight and Science. The books are incredibly illustrated and just a joy to look at. I have numerous books on the Civil War, as well, including the entire Time-Life series.

A tiny sampling of writing how-to books in my library.

A tiny sampling of writing how-to books in my library.

I also have a vast collection of hardcover and trade paperback-sized writing books on my nonfiction shelves. I used to buy these on a regular basis from Writer’s Digest Books. I’ll still purchase a new writing book from time to time, but I’m happy with my collection overall. My writing books encompass everything from character building to outlining to short story writing to scriptwriting and more. And, I have boxes of Writer’s Digest magazines to read and re-read as well.

IMG_20150612_120216413 (640x416)IMG_20150612_120742879 (640x412)IMG_20150612_121202824 (640x423)IMG_20150612_120414701 (640x445)

Trade paperback books are also beginning to make their way into my collection. These are slightly wider and taller than standard paperbacks, though with soft covers. I have the entire Penguin reissues of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books and a host of Sherlock Holmes novels from Titan Books in this format. (They’ve also issued all of the James Gardner James Bond books in this format now and I’m working on adding them to my collection.) I’m currently collecting the reissues of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu and Doc Savage’s New Adventures. And, I hope to get all of The Saint books someday, but there are so many of them it may take forever. The Hardcase Crime series of books began as standard paperbacks but are now issued as trade paperbacks. A lot of these books are just not available in standard paperback versions, so the trade formats are the next best thing. There are numerous other authors who, for whatever reason, seem to be exclusively published in trade paperback: Chuck Palahniuk, Joseph Nesbo and Joe Hill come to mind.

Which type of book is your favorite? Hardcovers, paperbacks or digital?

Unknown Sender” by Ryan Lanz starts as a somewhat predictable tale of a young college student haunted by a series of text messages from an anonymous source. The texter seems to know everything about our protagonist, Jessica, from the clothes she’s wearing to what she’s doing at a specific moment.

Unknown Sender (427x640)Jessica, naturally, goes through a gamut of emotions, from curiosity to straight-on fear. Her suspicions grow as the texts continue to the point she starts lashing out at anyone who might be her mysterious texter. Her roommate tries to calm her down and offers a getaway for the weekend to a secluded cabin, where no one can bother her. Of course, the unknown sender somehow still manages to get his messages through, even though there is no cell signal.

It all leads up to a surprising plot twist and a shocking ending that can’t be shared here or the story itself would be ruined.

Lanz does a good job of building tension and suspense as the story unravels. The reader can easily sympathize with Jessica in the face of this unusual cyber attack.

At just 23 pages, the story is a quick, entertaining read. Given all its buildup, however, the ending felt somewhat rushed and left me wanting something more. Perhaps there’s sequel in the making?

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on events in What You Left Behind, the new novel by Samantha Hayes, she throws you a curve. That’s normally a good thing in a mystery-suspense novel. The twists and turns should be enough to keep readers glued to the pages, but in this case it backfires.

What You Left BehindThe book ($25, Crown Publishers) starts on a thrilling note as a pair of thieves out for a midnight joyride on a stolen motorcycle lose control and careen into a tree. The female passenger, who narrates the chapter but is never identified, manages to slip away into the night. The male rider is killed. A suicide note found in his belongings, the fact that he wasn’t wearing a helmet, and the lack of skid marks at the scene, lead police to conclude that the wreck was a suicide.

Rather than follow the story of the rider who walked away, and why she didn’t come forward, the novel takes the first of many turns. Instead, we are introduced to detective inspector Lorraine Fisher and her daughter Stella as they spend their vacation visiting with Lorraine’s sister, Jo, in the rural village of Radcote. After a second apparent suicide, Jo and others in the community worry that the death may be another in a spate of suicides of its young people, similar to one that occurred there two years ago. Lorraine eventually begins to suspect otherwise and begins a plodding investigation that really doesn’t go anywhere. She pesters the local police, particularly a former associate she despises, to reopen the investigation.

But even this plotline gets shuffled to the background. Hayes begins another tangent involving Freddie, the depressed teenage son of Jo, who is the victim of cyber bullying. Freddie keeps it all to himself and eventually runs off with a stolen laptop. The laptop contains compromising photos of a pair of locals. Freddie witnesses the murder of another teenager, who, you guessed it, police determine died as a result of a suicide. Lorraine thinks otherwise and her investigation is back on again.

Meanwhile, there’s an autistic man, Gil, in town who sometimes jumps to the fore of the story by narrating several chapters. The reader is led to suspect him of being behind the rash of foul deeds in another red herring from Hayes. Gil even holds Freddie against his will in the latter stages of the book. I won’t give everything away, but Freddie’s life is put on the line in an exciting series of chapters near the end, leading to the eventual truth behind things. Or, so we think, until the epilogue where Hayes adds one final twist.

It wouldn’t be a mystery without a false lead or two and several twists, so in this arena Hayes succeeds. Where she goes astray is in maintaining a constant thread tying everything together. On several occasions it seemed like certain plotlines were simply forgotten for long stretches of time. Lorraine’s so-called investigation pales in interest to Freddie’s story, but Lorraine is supposed to be our protagonist of the tale. By the time everything is tied together at the end, it seemed rushed and somewhat contrived.

And, what’s more, one of the most fascinating plot elements – the cyberbullying of Freddie – is completely ignored. It has nothing to do with anything. I don’t know if that’s a red herring or just a blatant mistake. In either case, I was dissatisfied with the outcome of that plot element and its relation to the rest of the book, especially considering how much time was devoted to the cyberbullying.

Hayes demonstrates she can write with power and authority. The scenes where Freddie’s life hangs in the balance – literally – are top-notch. Unfortunately, the many plotlines, subplots and rabbit trails in the rest of the book complicate and muddle an otherwise entertaining read. Sometimes, simple is better.

I received this book for review from Blogging for Books.

“In sum, the data could not provide a basis to determine with absolute certainty whether there was or was not tampering, as the analysis of such data is dependent upon assumptions and information that is not certain.”

– Wells Report on Deflategate

Bleak doesn’t begin to describe life in the bayou in the pages of The Marauders, by Tom Cooper. The novel follows the journey of several individuals who are trying to eke out their place in the world in the aftermath of the BP oil spill off the Gulf Coast. Even with the promise of easy money from BP–looking to settle claims before they become even heftier in cost–most of the characters have little to look forward to other than days of drudgery on shrimp boats or doing menial hard labor.

The Marauders-largeCooper, himself a native of New Orleans, paints a realistic portrait of the hardships his characters endure, easily putting the reader into the scene. It’s not a place anyone in their sane mind would want to embrace and, fortunately for the reader, it’s one that can be left by just closing the pages of the book. For his characters, such an escape is unattainable.

It’s Cooper’s characters, however, who keep readers wanting to turn the page.

Readers are introduced to a one-armed shrimper turned treasure-hunter, a teen wanting to forge his own way apart from the drudgery of life his father offers him, a pair of common criminals looking for an easy way out, and a pair of marijuana growers. It takes a while for their paths to cross, and for the story to really get going, but when they do the suspense is palpable, and sometimes humorous. (SPOILER: There’s one scene where the pot growers lock an alligator in the room with our one-armed shrimper.)

The Wall Street Journal describes the tale as “Sad, grotesque, hilarious, breathtaking”. I’m not sure about the latter description, but the novel is certainly intriguing and entertaining. It’s not a crime thriller per se, with shoot ‘em ups and car chases, but rather a story about characters and the choices they make, both criminal and otherwise.

The novel is Cooper’s first, though he has numerous credits in literary magazines like the Oxford American, Mid-American Review and others. He has been nominated for times for the Pushcart Prize.

NOTE: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

It took me a little while to finish reading The Expats by Chris Pavone.

That, of course, is one of the worst things an author wants to hear after the hours, days, weeks, months – maybe even years – of laboring over his or her novel. But, on a bright note, I’m glad I saw the book through to its end.

The Expats - coverI started reading the book in late February soon after it arrived in the mail from Blogging for Books. I quickly read to about the halfway point – and something happened. One day, I picked up a different book and started reading it. I not only read that book all the way to its finish, I then picked up another book and read it from start to finish.

The Expats, meanwhile, sat unfinished. A lone bookmark sitting on page 150.

This past week, I decided I should finish what I started. (I sometimes have difficulty in that regard, so I don’t lay all of the blame on the author. I have lots of unfinished projects around the house. I am easily distracted by other chores and things I’d rather be doing. The Expats simply fell victim to my own impatience.)

The Expats follows the story of Kate Moore, a former CIA operative who resigns to be a mom to her kid and wife in Luxembourg, where she meets other Americans living abroad like herself. After years of seeing spies everywhere and trusting no one, it’s not easy for Kate to live the simple life. It’s not long before she begins to sense deception at every turn, from the new couple she befriends to her own husband.

Her paranoia runs deep and she soon starts spying on her husband and sneaking into his office to find out just what he does for a living and whether he is being honest with her. At the same time, her newfound friends start turning up everywhere she goes, leading her to suspect that they are either spying on her or on her husband.

She’s not wrong, as it turns out.

It sounds like an intriguing story, and it is, for the most part. It just takes a while for things to start happening. The second half of the book certainly flowed a lot quicker as all her fears began to manifest and the puzzles presented in the first half of the book became clear. Pavone’s prose certainly puts the reader into the head of his main character. We hear and think every thought with Kate, however irrational those thoughts appear on the surface. As a reader, you have to wonder if her paranoia is just that, or if she is really on to something, and if she’s right, what then? How will she handle the news that her husband isn’t who he says he is or is doing something he shouldn’t be doing? Can she turn in her own husband to the CIA?

It’s a fascinating moral dilemma.

That’s what this book is more than anything else, and that may be why I had to put it down midway through. I like more action in the stories I read, and this one seemed lacking. Even her final showdown with the FBI agent/former friend following her was only a page or two. Everything else took place over long talks at dinner. The entire final reveal was more akin to a Hercule Poirot finale where he regales the reader with a recap of the events and his deductions.

I like a good mystery – I love Hercule Poirot novels. But when you are reading about spies, the CIA and FBI following the trail of a possible international crime, I expect more action.

Available from Broadway Books, The Expats is a New York Times Bestseller and has received rave reviews. I’m not raving over this one, but it’s a good mystery and I’m glad I finished reading it.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one.”

Terry Pratchett, 1948-2015

Terry Pratchett remembered

Terry Pratchett in quotes

Terry Pratchett and, well, everything

Quote  —  Posted: March 12, 2015 in Books, Fiction, Reading, Writing, writing advice
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STOS Ultimate Computer

“Live Long and Prosper.”

RIP Mr. Spock aka Leonard Nimoy

Quote  —  Posted: February 27, 2015 in TV
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