Life Between the Pages: What is Up With All the Cursing?

I feel like I can no longer open up a book and experience clean reading. Profanity litters the pages like “the” and “a.”

I’m a little uptight. Okay, maybe more than a little. But I was raised by parents who didn’t let us curse ( I’m the only one in my family who still doesn’t curse) and took that to heart. I can actually count on one hand how many times I’ve actually said one. I didn’t feel very good about myself when I used it, but no one around me seemed to have an opinion about it.

I find cursing to be crude and unsophisticated. I also appreciate the power of words and words like enraged, furious, and incensed carry more power than pissed off. Total honesty. I cringed just writing that. And that’s probably being mild.

I appreciate elegance, sophistication, and a mastery of words (and the ownership of or access to a thesaurus). I don’t think cursing is a necessity as a rule.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wholly against cursing. I don’t think books should always be squeaky clean. Indeed, I think profanity can be effective and pack quite a punch when used sparingly and for effect. I also recognize that some books, because of the setting or characterization, depend on cursing to keep it real.

But I still don’t believe every book needs pages filled with curse words. It’s actually insanely off-putting to me. And, seriously, every character has to curse? I don’t know about you, but I can have all kinds of conversations with different people without a single curse from either of us.

I also think it’s something fantasy books have a problem with. If it’s in a made-up world, some of the language is also often made up. Which means curse words tend to be made up. But I don’t think they are quite as emphatic as they could be either because they’re over used or they’re just too different that they become another word like “forest” and  “sword.” I can read them without feeling the emotion that’s supposed to be behind them. They’re like fun little words.

I hate opening up a book and seeing curse words on every other line. It doesn’t bode well for the rest of the book.

I appreciate their use, but can they be used less often?

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Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Refuse to Let Anyone Touch

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish  and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

This week’s topic is books that you won’t let anyone touch. I’ve always been such a huge fan of reading that I would loan out my books left and right. I would get so excited when someone said they wanted to read a book, and I had it! I even turned my little library of books into a library for my younger siblings and mom.

But, now that I’m older, I’m a lot more possessive of my books, and there are some I wouldn’t lend over my dead body (they’ll probably be buried with me).


1. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

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I started reading these books when I was a high school freshman. I was enchanted by the end of the first page. But I won’t part with my copy because it’s been with me for almost 2 decades and it was signed by Jordan’s widow.


2. The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

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I started reading these books at the recommendation of one of my college friends. That was shortly before I left to study abroad in Denmark. I didn’t take many books with me, but quickly learned of a bookstore that sold books in English. This and The Light Fantastic came from that bookstore.


3. The Magic Circle by Katherine Neville

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I read this just because I have the same first name, spelled the same way. I thought it might be interesting, but it was much better than I thought. When I met my husband, he expressed an interest in reading more, so I suggested Neville’s books. Later on, we learned she was doing a reading and signing session at a local bookstore. Of course we had to go!


4. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide by Douglas Adams

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Yet another book I read based on a friend’s recommendation. Later on I found out he just meant the first book and not the whole series. But I wasn’t sure, so got the whole thing from that Danish bookstore.


5. Persuasion by Jane Austen

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Every year at Barnes and Noble, they had the classics in a different binding. One year, it was these cute little books with very thin pages. I thought they were adorable, so I got a bunch. I have more than just Persuasion, but this one also turned out to be my favorite Austen book.


6. The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

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Another book I got in Denmark. But I loved this one so much that I read it almost every month for about a year. It’s now been years since the last reading, but I still won’t let anyone touch it. That shark sticker on the corner is not part of the cover. I don’t know how it got there.


7. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

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Okay, I don’t love this book, but it was a gift from my mom. She’s also a huge reader and this is one she passed down to me. I have no idea how old it is, but it’s the only book I have from her that’s still in good condition (we’ll discuss the tattered copy of The Phantom Tollbooth another day).


8. Stand in the Wind by Jean Little

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When I was 12, we went to visit family in Canada. In one of the airports, I saw some books. This one caught my eye, though I couldn’t tell you why. Apparently, my enjoyment of collecting books in other countries started here. I never saw this book in an American bookstore, so I’m not letting this one go, and my kids are not allowed to touch it. Yet.


9. The White Tribunal by Paula Volsky

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This one isn’t signed, wasn’t read by my husband, and didn’t come from another country. But it has a special place in my heart. When I was 14, I picked up this book. I have distinct memories of sitting in my Natural Science class and reading this before class started. I remember becoming insanely frustrated by a single word, though it took me a couple of days of trying to puzzle it out before I finally looked in a dictionary. I learned what “inevitable” means. It’s also a good book.


10. South of Superior by Ellen Airgood

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I’ve entered a lot of giveaways on Goodreads since I joined in 2012. I entered the one for this book because I could. The next day I was stunned when I got the email saying I’d won a copy. A couple of weeks later, I received it in the mail and immediately started reading. So far, it’s still the only book I’ve won.

Book Blog Tour: The East End by Jason Allen

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The Lily Cafe is thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in the book blog tour for Jason Allen’s debut novel The East End! Memorial Day weekend is fast approaching, and what better way to sit back and enjoy the long weekend than with this suspenseful novel that takes place over the very same weekend?

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Title: The East End

Author: Jason Allen

Publisher: Park Row Books

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

ISBN: 9780778308393

Genre: Fiction, Suspense

 

THE EAST END opens with Corey Halpern, a Hamptons local from a broken home who breaks into mansions at night for kicks. He likes the rush and admittedly, the escapism. One night just before Memorial Day weekend, he breaks into the wrong home at the wrong time: the Sheffield estate where he and his mother work. Under the cover of darkness, their boss Leo Sheffield — billionaire CEO, patriarch, and owner of the vast lakeside manor — arrives unexpectedly with his lover, Henry. After a shocking poolside accident leaves Henry dead, everything depends on Leo burying the truth. But unfortunately for him, Corey saw what happened and there are other eyes in the shadows.

Hordes of family and guests are coming to the estate the next morning, including Leo’s surly wife, all expecting a lavish vacation weekend of poolside drinks, evening parties, and fireworks filling the sky. No one can know there’s a dead man in the woods, and there is no one Leo can turn to. With his very life on the line, everything will come down to a split-second decision. For all of the main players—Leo, Gina, and Corey alike—time is ticking down, and the world they’ve known is set to explode.

Told through multiple points of view, THE EAST END highlights the socio-economic divide in the Hamptons, but also how the basic human need for connection and trust can transcend class differences. Secrecy, obsession, and desperation dictate each character’s path. In a race against time, each critical moment holds life in the balance as Corey, Gina, and Leo approach a common breaking point. THE EAST END is a propulsive read, rich with character and atmosphere, and marks the emergence of a talented new voice in fiction.


Excerpt:

After sunset, Corey Halpern sat parked at a dead end in Southampton with his headlights off and the dome light on, killing time before the break-in. As far as he knew, about a quarter mile up the beach the owners of the summerhouse he’d been casing for the past two weeks were busy playing host, buzzed from cocktails and jabbering beside the pool on their oceanfront deck, oblivious that a townie kid was about to invite himself into their mansion while they and their guests partied into the night.

Smoke trailed up from the joint pinched between Corey’s thumb and forefinger as he leaned forward and picked up a wrinkled sheet of paper from the truck floor. He smoothed out his final high school essay, squinting through the smoke-filled haze to read his opening lines:

In the Hamptons, we’re invaded every summer. The mansions belong to the invaders, and aren’t actual homes—not as far as the locals are concerned. For one thing, they’re empty most of the year.

The dome light flicked off and he exhaled in semidarkness, thinking about what he’d written. If he didn’t leave this place soon, he might never get out. Now that he’d graduated he could make his escape by taking a stab at college in the fall, but that would mean leaving his mother and brother behind, which for many reasons felt impossible, too abstract, the world outside this cluster of towns on the East End so unimaginably far away….

If only he could write as he saw things, maybe this place wouldn’t be so bad, though each time he’d put pen to paper and tried to describe these solo hours at the ocean, or anything else, the words remained trapped behind locked doors deep inside his head. Sitting on his heels, he reached up and pressed the faint bruise below his right eye, recalling the fight last weekend with that kid from North Sea and how each of them had been so quick to throw punches…

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A few miles later, with Iggy Pop and The Stooges blaring from his door panel, it made perfect sense to take the night to a whole new level and rob his mother’s bosses before they came out from the city; before Gina came home crying after one of the longer, more grueling workdays; before he joined her for the summer as the Sheffields’ servant boy. Iggy reinforced the necessity of the much higher risk mission—the need to do it now—as he belted out one of his early-seventies punk anthems, the lyrics to “Search and Destroy” entering Corey’s brain and seeping much deeper inside his chest as a truth he’d never been able to articulate for himself. His fingers tapped steadily on the wheel when he turned off Main.

He drove slowly for another block or two, his pulse beating in his neck as he turned left at the pyramid of cannonballs and the antique cannon on the edge of town. A couple blocks later, he downshifted around the bend, rolled to a stop and parked beside a wooded section of Gin Lane. From there he didn’t hesitate at all. He hustled along the grass bordering the roadside, past hedgerows and closed gates and dark driveways, until the Sheffields’ driveway came into view. A life-size pair of stone lions sat atop wide stone bases and bookended the entrance, two males with full manes and the house number chiseled onto their chests. Corey knew the lions held a double meaning. His mom’s boss put these statues out here partly because they looked imposing, the type of decorations kings used to choose, but also because they stood as symbols of August birthdays, the same astrological sign as Mr. Sheffield’s first name—Leo.

He stood still for a moment, looking between the bars of the tall iron gates crowned with spikes. Beginning tomorrow morning, and then all throughout Memorial Day weekend— just as he had the past few summers—he’d spend long days working there. Gina would be so pissed if she could see him now. She’d at least threaten to disown him if she ever found out he’d broken in, but that would be a hollow threat anyway, and he’d already convinced himself that she’d never know. The Sheffields should have paid her more to begin with, even if she didn’t have a deadbeat husband like Ray pissing her meager savings away on his court fees and gambling debts. But the memory that sealed Corey’s decision tonight had been replaying in his mind for almost a year—the dinner party last summer, when Sheila Sheffield yelled at his mom right in front of him and about ten guests, berating her for accidentally dropping a crystal chalice that she said cost more than Gina’s yearly salary. While Leo and the grown Sheffield kids looked on dumbly and didn’t bother to make a peep, Corey had followed Gina into the kitchen and stood a few feet away from her, unable to think of what to say to console her while she cried. Ever since then, he’d wanted to get back at them all.

Fuck these people, he thought.

He would rob them, and smash some windows on his way out so they wouldn’t suspect anyone who worked there. All he had to do was make sure not to leave any evidence behind, definitely no fingerprints, and he’d take the extra precaution of scaling the gates rather than punching in the code.

He wriggled his fingers into his gloves. Crickets chirped away in the shadows, his only witnesses as he looked over each shoulder and back through the bars. He let out a long breath. Then he gripped the wrought iron and started to climb.

Moonlight splintered between the old oak branches and cut across his body like blades. It took only a few seconds to grapple up the bars, though a bit longer to ease over the spear-like tips while he tried to shut out a nightmare image of one of them skewering his crotch. Relieved when his legs reached the other side unharmed, he shimmied down the bars like a monkey and dropped, suddenly hidden from the outside world by the thick hedge wall. Poised on one knee, he turned to his left and scanned the distant mansion’s dark windows, the eaves and gables. The perfectly manicured lawn stretched for acres in all directions, a few giant oaks with thick limbs and gnarled trunks the only natural features between the faraway pines along the property line and a constellation of sculptures. A scattered squad of bronze chess pieces stood as tall as real-life soldiers, with two much larger pieces towering behind them—a three-ton slab of quartz sitting atop a steel column and a bright yellow Keith Haring dog in mid stomp on its hind legs, each the size of an upended school bus or the wing of a 747, all the sculptures throwing sharp shadows across the lawn when Corey rose to his feet, leapt forward and ran toward the Sheffields’ sprawling vacation home.

His sneakers crunched along the pebble driveway, his steps way too loud against the quiet until he made it across the deeper bed of beach stones in the wide parking area and passed through an ivy-covered archway, still at top speed while he followed the curved path of slate down a gentle slope, and then pulled up at the corner of the porch. Breathing heavily, he grappled up the post and high-stepped onto the railing, wiping sweat from his forehead when he turned to face Agawam Lake. The moon’s light came ladling down onto the water like milk and trailed into the darkness of the far shore, while in the reeds beside the nearest willow tree a pair of swans sat still as porcelain, sleeping with their bills tucked at their breasts.

No one will know, he thought. The crickets kept making a soft racket in the shadows. The swans seemed like another good omen. But then a light went on inside one of the mansions directly across the water, and Corey pulled his body up from the railing, thinking he should get inside before someone saw him. He quickly scaled the corner porch beam and trellis while trying to avoid the roses’ thorns, even as they snagged his sleeves and pant legs. Then, like a practiced rock climber, in one fluid motion he hoisted himself from the second-story roof up to the third-floor gable. He crouched there, looking, listening. The house across the water with the light on was too far away to know for sure, but he didn’t see any obvious signs of anyone watching from the picture windows. Probably just some insomniac millionaire sipping whiskey and checking the numbers of a stock exchange on the other side of the world.

Confident that he should press on, Corey half stood from his crouch and took the putty knife from his back pocket to pry open the third-story bathroom window, the one he’d left unlatched the previous day when he’d come there with his mother. The old window sash fought him with a friction of wood on wood, but after straining for a few seconds he managed to shove the bottom section flush with the top, and was struck immediately by the smells of Gina’s recent cleaning— ammonia, lemon and jasmine, the chemical blend of a freshly scoured hospital room. Balanced at the angle of the roof, he stared down at the neighboring properties once more. Still no sounds, no lights, no signs that anyone had called the cops, so he turned and stretched his arms through the window and shimmied down until he felt the toilet lid with both gloved hands and his sneakers left the shingles, all his weight sliding against the sill as he wriggled in.

Although he hadn’t been sure whether he’d ever go through with it, he’d plotted this burglary for weeks, the original iteration coming to him during Labor Day weekend last year. The first step had been to ask Gina if he could clean the Sheffield house with her for a few extra bucks before the summer season began. She’d raised an eyebrow but agreed, approving at least of her teenager’s out-of-character desire to work, and throughout the past week, whenever she’d left him to dust and vacuum the third floor, he’d had his chance to run recon and plan the point of entry. He knew she wouldn’t bother to check the latch on a closed window three stories off the ground, not after she’d scrubbed and ironed and Pledged all day. And more important, by then he knew those upper-floor windows had no seal-break sensors. He knew this because a few days earlier he’d left this very same window open before Gina armed the alarm, and afterward nothing happened—no blaring sounds before they pulled away, no call or drive-by from a security officer. So tonight, again, the security company wouldn’t see any flashing red lights on their computer screens. Not yet anyway, not until he smashed a window downstairs and staged a sloppy burglary scene on his way out.

Despite knowing that nobody would be out till Friday, his footsteps were all toe as he crept from the dark bathroom and into the hazy bluish hall, and yet, even with all this effort to tread lightly, the old floorboards still strained and creaked each time his sneakers pressed down. Trailing away from him, a black-and-white series of Ansel Adams photos hung in perfect rows, one on either side of the hall, hundreds of birch trees encased in glass coverings that Corey had just recently Windexed and wiped. Every table surface and light fixture and the entire length of the floor gleamed, immaculate, too clean to imagine the Sheffields had ever even set foot in here, let alone lived here for part of the year. He’d always felt the house had a certain coldness to it, and thought so again now, even though it had to be damn near eighty degrees inside with all the windows closed.

After slowly stepping down one set of stairs, Corey skulked along the second-floor hall, past the doorway to Mr. and Mrs. Sheffields’ master bedroom and then past Andy’s and Clay’s rooms, deciding to browse Tiffany’s bedroom first, his favorite room in the house. The Sheffields’ only daughter had a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf full of hardcover novels, stage plays and poetry collections, a Super 8 projector, stacked film reels and three antique cameras. He’d spent as much time as possible in this room during his previous workdays, mainly staring at the paintings mounted on three of the walls, and now lingered once more looking at each textured image, surprised all over again that a rich girl had painted these shades of pain, these somber expressions on the faces of dirty figures in shabby clothes, compositions of suffering he’d have expected from a city artist teetering between a rat-hole apartment and a cardboard box in an alley. They all had something, that’s for sure, but one portrait had always spoken to him much more than any of the others. He stood before it and freed it from its hook.

At the window he noticed the light had gone off at the mansion across the lake and figured the insomniac must have drunk enough for sleep. Although he knew he shouldn’t, he flicked on Tiffany’s bedside table light to get a better look at the girl in the painting, her brown eyes, full lips, caramel skin, her black hair flowing down to divots between her collarbone and chest. He knew Tiffany had painted it, but also that it wasn’t a self-portrait. She looked nothing like the girl she’d painted. Anorexically skinny, Tiffany had dyed-blond hair and usually wore too much makeup. In one photo with her parents and two older brothers, while the rest of the family had dressed in country club attire, she had on a tank top and frayed jean shorts, dark sunglasses, the only one of them with any tattoos, the only one barefoot on the grass.

Corey searched her shelves until he found the photo of Tiffany’s best friend, the girl from the painting, Angelique. He’d seen her at the estate plenty during the previous summers, and last Labor Day weekend they’d talked many times, their conversations lasting longer and seeming to have more depth until finally he summoned the courage to ask her out. Her long pause had made him wish he could disappear, and then those four awful words, I have a boyfriend, had knocked the wind out of him just before he nodded with his eyes to the ground and walked away. Reliving the disappointment, he killed the lamplight and lay on the bed with her photo on his chest, and then, stupidly, closed his eyes…

Excerpted from The East End by Jason Allen, Copyright © 2019 by Jason Allen. Published by Park Row Books.


Don’t you just want to read it now and find out what happens next? What does Corey wake up to?! I love a good suspenseful book, one that keeps me wondering what will happen next. If you do, too, do pick up a copy (see links just a bit below). Or even if it’s not your cup of tea. You never know exactly what kind of book you’ll fall in love with.

Jason Allen author photo 2_c Jim Glasgow

About the Author: Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A MEDITATION ON FIRE. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University, and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing. THE EAST END is his first novel.

 

Get your copy:

Harlequin

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

Powell’s

Connect with Jason Allen:

Author Website

Twitter: @EathanJason

Facebook: @jasonallenauthor

Goodreads

Want to meet Jason Allen and will be on the East Coast? Look below! And this California girl says “lucky you!”

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Thank you so much to Park Row Books for not just a copy of this wonderful book, but the opportunity to participate in the blog tour.

Life Between the Pages: Start at the Cover

A book cover is a reader’s first introduction to a book. Usually. It’s important as it’s supposed to grab a reader’s attention, but I often forget about it since I mostly read on my Kindle. But, when I’m browsing, the cover holds a lot of power.

The Image Says a Lot

Genres tend to have their own overarching style. It’s easy to tell if it’s fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance, women’s fiction, etc. They all have a certain look. Beyond that, it also offers a glimpse into the book itself. There has to be congruency between the cover and the story, otherwise why bother?

I always think of the cover as showing a small slice of what’s inside. Not only does it tell me what genre it is, but it also tells me what I can expect. So, if there’s a cat on the cover, there had better be a cat in the book. But I like when it shows the most important elements, something that tells the reader this is what the book is about, these are things they should be reading about, and it’s what the book should be centered on. So, if there’s a cat on the cover, there had better be a cat in the book, and it should feature prominently. Otherwise I’m disappointed and feel misled. Don’t do that.

What I Like

I like cover art that’s descriptive. I love when it features a scene directly from the book and get so excited when I get to that scene and can gaze at the cover and know the context. I also love seeing some kind of action. It tells me the story moves, it’s going somewhere, something is going to happen. It’s going to be exciting. But I don’t like overly complex images. My favorite cover is still The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. It’s a simple scene of a bunch of people riding somewhere (the image wraps around to the back, where there is a whole line of people). Action. No complexity. And, boy, did I love discovering who was who.

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I also like covers that are more symbolic. These don’t have people, but key items that the story revolves around. I see a lot of fantasy books with a crown on the cover, so I expect it should be about royalty in some way or revolve around a struggle for a crown. I’m not actually sure because I haven’t read any of them. I’m not drawn to books about queens and kings right now. But I love the cover for The Eight by Katherine Neville. It’s a simple chess piece and, wow, does chess feature prominently!

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I really love covers that simply have some color. I don’t doubt that covers with only a few colors are just as exciting, and I’ve probably enjoyed a few of them, but all the colors really capture my imagination. I go into the story knowing there’s going to be a lot of vibrancy. A cover with only two or three colors feels bland to me.

Most of all, I love being able to look at a cover and remember what the book was about. To me, that says the best thing about the cover. If I look at a book and can’t for the life of me remember anything, I can’t help but think the cover is pretty, but completely useless to me. I want to be able to stare at it and relive reading the book.

What I Don’t Like

I don’t love covers that have a single character and nothing else, especially if the character is only standing there. I feel like they’re staring me down and it’s kind of unnerving. The fact that they’re also doing nothing is a little creepy. I stare at the cover and some immobile person is staring back at me, usually with an intense look in their eyes. I do own a number of books with a single character staring out, but they’re usually set in a scene or surrounded by other things like animals. I don’t mind covers where there’s a character doing something; I mind the ones where the character is simply there.

I also really hate covers that end up having very little in common with the story. Seriously, what’s the point? It’s misleading and I’m left feeling cheated whenever I look at the cover. Take the cover of Time Burrito by Aaron Frale for example. There’s a cat riding a burrito. Yes, there is a great deal of talk about burritos. But we don’t meet the cat until closer to the end and it has very little to do with the story. Needless to say, I really didn’t care for the book (though it was also a bad story).

Fonts

I don’t have too much to say about the actual title. As a writer myself, I really feel for authors, especially self-published ones. It’s hard coming up with a good title that also says something about the story. Take the story I’m currently posting here, Raven. Sure, my main character is called Raven and it’s mostly about her, but, honestly, I think that title sucks. But another one hasn’t jumped out at me yet, and I’ve been waiting years.

Instead, I’ll carp on about the font. I mean, the title and author’s name have to be in one font or another, so I think it’s kind of important.

First and foremost, it’s got to be readable. Have you ever picked up a book and gone to look at the title and found it was so loopy and squiggly and artistic and trying so hard to be elegant that you could not for the life of you read it? Is the story going to read the same way, too? Illegible, fancy fonts are pretty, but far from easy on the eyes. If I have a hard time making out the words, I’ll pass on the book.

What really bothers me is when the author’s name is bigger than the title. I have often mistaken the author’s name as the title of the book, and it was rather puzzling. I have no problem with established authors having their name taking up half the cover. After all, they’re established and people will pick up the book simply because they wrote it. But, little known or new authors? Nope. I’m sorry, but I’m only looking at the book because the story description or cover drew me in. I literally have no interest in who you are until I’ve read the book and come to my own conclusion of whether it was good or not. I’m not going to buy or read it because of who you are because I have no clue who you are. Nor do I care.

Lastly, cover art that’s obscured by the title and/or author is unappealing. Why bother having art if it can’t be seen or seen well? I prefer a nice balance where I can read the title, the author’s name, and see the cover art. That way I have a better idea of what the book is about.

 

The cover is an important part of any book. These are my preferences, even though I sometimes stray from them, especially if the title sounds particularly intriguing. There are a few things I can forgive, but, in general, this is what I like and dislike. What about you?

Top Ten Tuesday: (First 10) Books I Reviewed

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl. I follow several book bloggers and kept seeing these lists every Tuesday, so I finally followed the link one day to find out more. They look like fun, so I decided to start doing some of them.

This week’s topic is the first 10 book reviews you’ve done. Technically, I think my first book review was back in 3rd grade, but that was an awfully long time ago and I don’t even remember which book it was.

I didn’t start reviewing books online until I stumbled on Goodreads in 2012. Then grad school for really busy and I had my first baby, so, after a few reviews, I didn’t write another until 2015 and didn’t post them on a blog until 2017 on a blog that I’ve since deactivated, but those reviews have been moved to this blog.

I usually write my own summaries of the books I read, but all of these are from so long ago that I’m afraid my memory might be too faulty, so I got the descriptions from Goodreads.

As far as I can tell, these were the first 10 reviews I wrote, in no particular order because I discovered I kept really bad reading records.


1. South of Superior by Ellen Airgood

South of Superior

When Madeline Stone walks away from Chicago and moves five hundred miles north to the coast of Lake Superior, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she isn’t prepared for how much her life will change.

Charged with caring for an aging family friend, Madeline finds herself in the middle of beautiful nowhere with Gladys and Arbutus, two octogenarian sisters-one sharp and stubborn, the other sweeter than sunshine. As Madeline begins to experience the ways of the small, tight-knit town, she is drawn into the lives and dramas of its residents. It’s a place where times are tough and debts run deep, but friendship, community, and compassion run deeper. As the story hurtles alongfeaturing a lost child, a dashed love, a car accident, a wedding, a fire, and a romantic reunionGladys, Arbutus, and the rest of the town teach Madeline more about life, love, and goodwill than she’s learned in a lifetime.

A heartwarming novel, South of Superior explores the deep reward in caring for others, and shows how one who is poor in pocket can be rich in so many other ways, and how little it often takes to make someone happy.

My rating: 4. I still think it was pretty good!


2. Flowers for Her Grave by Jean Sheldon

Flowers For Her Grave

When a young woman shows up in Raccoon Grove claiming to be a missing girl from a 20-year-old murder, the local gossip columnist and gardener team up to discover the truth. Accidents threaten to put a stop to their investigation and to the garden party where they plan to reveal what really happened. No one could have guessed the truth. Neither will you in this surprising whodunit.

My rating: 3. I don’t actually remember reading this one.


3. Gold and Fishes by Donna Carrick

Gold and Fishes

Foreign aid worker Ayla Harris is struggling to bring hope back into the ruins of post-tsunami Indonesia. But when she discovers that her disreputable brother-in-law is missing, she sets out to find him and soon realizes that her own life is in terrible danger.

My rating: 4. I remember this was a really great book centered on the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia.


4. Cathedral of Dreams by Terry Persun

Cathedral of Dreams

In Newcity, everyone is content. Bad feelings are not allowed, because your monitoring chip will alert the police to bring you in for treatment. Getting better is mandatory. Unchecked emotions made the world outside Newcity dangerous, unruly, and violent. At least that’s the official story in Newcity.Keith knows something is wrong. Strange visions lead him to become one of the few who escapes Newcity. He finds freedom and companionship outside, but pressure building to revolt against the city’s insidious regime of social control.. Leadership is thrust upon him, with only his visions for guidance, only a small band of friends for support-and the fates of both Newcity and the outside world at stake.Cathedral of Dreams is a compelling tale of a dystopian future and personal heroism.

My rating: 2. Seriously don’t remember this one.


5. The Stranger by Scott W. Clark

I have no book description because it looks like it was removed and I have no clue what it was about.

My rating: 1.


6. High

HIGH

Sonja Fines is a thirty-year-old, uptight, sleep deprived, workaholic from Manhattan who hasn’t taken a day off in years. On a Friday before a Fourth of July weekend, she hops in a cab, late for an important presentation, but ends up in a coffee shop…in Montreal. Shocked by her sudden escape, she meets laid-back Chad Miller. They spend the next three days together, and quickly fall for each other. Sonja has never been happier. But when Chad suddenly reveals something from his past, Sonja flees in a hurry—and her life turns upside down. Overwhelmed with emotions, she embarks on a roller coaster of spontaneous decisions that change her life dramatically.

My rating: 3. I think it was written by a blogger I followed. Sorry to say I didn’t love her book.


7. For Internal Use Only by Cari Kamm

For Internal Use Only

What happens when you stop chasing fairy tales and start creating your own?
Chloe Kassidy has just been accepted into one of Manhattan’s most exclusive art exhibits, Love Through Light. However, with her singular dedication to her career, she soon realizes that in sacrificing her personal life, she has never been in love. A hopeless romantic who is terrified of heartbreak, Chloe begins to enlist the help of her circle of friends to learn about love through their very different stories and experiences.

In Chloe’s emotional rollercoaster to having the greatest love story ever told, she’ll learn that like her photography she must use the negatives in life to develop and prove that she’s a strong woman who found her way to love through light.

Inspired by the notion that women grow up with ideas of true love and destiny, For Internal Use Only approaches those ideas with a decidedly twenty-first century viewpoint. A humorous love story with an edgy and dramatic twist, For Internal Use Only is a vastly entertaining novel that gives each of us a new fairy tale to look forward to: our own. 

My rating: 2. I wanted to like it, but mostly ended up really annoyed, so I skimmed the last half.


8. Nocturne of the Sun by Brenden Parkins

Nocturne of the Sun

In a time where magic is reborn, Nocturne of the Sun follows the story of a young man, Byako Leoka. 

A book steeped in complex magic, unusual characters, and spoonfuls of wit. 

Byako carries within him a unique gift, one which has not been seen since time immemorial. 

Follow the adventures of Byako Leoka as he travels to master the power he was born to wield.

My rating: 2. I really don’t remember reading this.


9. The Legacy of the Key by S. L. Morgan

The Legacy of the Key (Ancient Guardians, #1)

No matter where you are, facing your reality with passion and purpose will always lead down the path you were intended to go.

Reece Bryant was able to pick up the pieces of her broken life after the sudden death of her father. Though emotionally draining, she found the courage to move on, which would have made her father proud.

After finalizing the last of his estate, and returning to pursue her degree in medical school, she has never felt so confident. While making her way through this world on her own, she is suddenly confronted with the truth of her existence, and the reality of her future.

It is when she encounters two alluring and mysterious men, that a series of extraordinary events takes place, putting Reece’s life in grave danger. With her life in the balance, Reece must blindly trust the two mysterious strangers; and when she does, she is brought into an enchanting world that is beyond her logical comprehension. This captivating land reveals new worlds and new dimensions to which her existence is paramount.

But it is once she falls in love with the stunning Levi Oxley that everything will change, and Reece’s life will be in more danger than ever before. Forced to return to Earth and face a Council of Worlds, Reece discovers there is more to this enchanting dimension than she could have ever imagined.

At a moment’s notice, even thru the fog of our denial, our journey can become crystal clear. And within the revelation, once our fear subsides, we can find contentment and purpose if we focus on the things that matter most.

Trust—Courage—Love. 

My rating: 1. I just really hated this book, which was full of no action.


10. Primal Fear by William Diehl

Primal Fear (Vail/Stampler, #1)

Martin Vail, the brilliant “bad-boy” lawyer every prosecutor and politician love to hate, is defending Aaron Stampler, a man found holding a bloody butcher’s knife near a murdered archbishop. Vail is certain to lose, but Vail uses his unorthodox ways to good advantage when choosing his legal team–a tight group of men and women who must uncover the extraordinary truth behind the archbishop’s slaughter. They do, in a heart-stopping climax unparalleled for the surprise it springs on the reader…

My rating: 5. I really loved the psychology parts. It was a good legal thriller, too.

Life Between the Pages: Editing CAN Make or Break a Book, but Sometimes the Story Shines Through

I love reading self-published books. I never know exactly what I’m going to get. Sometimes it’s fairly standard for the genre; sometimes it’s unexpected. Sometimes the writing is quite conventional; sometimes it’s unusual.

In general, though, I’ve found the books I don’t hate and/or abandon usually fall into one of 3 categories for me:

  • Well edited, but the story isn’t compelling. Simply put, it’s not my cup of tea.
  • Poorly edited, but the story or premise is fascinating.
  • Well edited with a fascinating story.

I love the books that fall into the last category. This is Seven Unholy Days by Jerry Hatchett, The Lot of a Nobody by Dave Johnston, and The Adventure by Jennifer M. Zeiger. I love not having anything to say about the writing because it means I can just immerse myself in the story.

The books in the first category are like The Lifespan of Rabbits by Robert Tucker (review of this political fairy tale pending). They’re well-written, but I just can’t connect with the story. These are the ones where I shrug and say it just wasn’t for me.

The books that fall in the middle category stab me in the heart. There’s so much promise and I love the story so much, but the rough writing, lack of polish, and/or poor editing makes it hard to read. This is Cuteness Overlord by Mike Aaron, Life in River Hallow by Teresa Grabs, and Elithius: The Red Captain by Dominic Sceski. These are the books where editing can make or break a book, but they are also books where I can see the story shining through and think they deserve a chance.

Good editing has the power to put the reader’s focus on the story being told rather than on how the story is told. The reader doesn’t get bogged down in the mechanics of the writing or gets thrown out of the story by it. Instead, they can sit back and enjoy the story, immersing themselves into a sweeping adventure. Honestly, some readers can probably do this anyways and chalk the poor editing up to the book being self-published, but I have a hard time ignoring the writing. When the writing is really good, though, when it’s been well-edited, I don’t even focus on how it was written; I just get to jump in to the story and stay there.

Poor editing can get in the way of the storytelling. As I said before, this may not be true for every reader, but it’s definitely true for me. If I have to read a sentence, paragraph, or whole page over again because I don’t get it due to the poor writing, then I get frustrated and wonder if I’m wasting my time. If the writer can’t be bothered to ensure their writing is clear, then why should I be bothered to read it? Okay, sorry. I’m letting my general frustration show here, but I think it’s important for writers to know. Poor editing can result in a lower quality story or something that simply reads as juvenile due to a young or inexperienced writer. The story might not actually be clear to anyone other than the writer, and maybe a few close friends and family members who rave about it. As a reader, I don’t want to be continually searching back through the text because reading something makes me think I missed something. I’ll just end up confused. When I get confused, I lose faith in the story and it’s quality. And then I just stop reading. Whatever the writer had in mind might have been brilliant, but it’s all about the execution. If a story isn’t told well, it’s poorly done. Simple.

But sometimes – sometimes – the story manages to shine through the poor writing and editing. These are the books in my middle category. They are why I love self-published books.

ContraDictation by Adam West is one of these. You won’t find my review of it, and there isn’t one pending. The writing was atrocious, but the story was more than fascinating. It’s simple: contradict yourself and wink out of existence. I loved the idea so much, I just said goodbye to the writing and focused on the story. Definitely a 4 cups of tea book, but I have no immediate plans to write a review. Why? Because the author recognized his poor writing and fully intends on better editing his two subsequent books. I’m very much looking forward to their publication.

Getting past poor editing can be difficult. I know it’s very easy for me to get bogged down in it and become frustrated with the writing where I can’t give the story a fair shot. But sometimes I come across a remarkable story. It’s different. It’s unique. There’s an intriguing quality to it. My mind latches onto it and won’t let go. There’s something special about the story and the raw way the author presents it. The editing is amazingly bad, but I can read past it to find an absolute gem of a book. I live for these books.

Those middle category books have the potential to be amazing, if only the writing and editing were better. It’s books like those that make me want to be an editor (but who would trust an untested avid reader who is so busy with 2 kids that one read-through would take a month?). I want other readers to love the same gem. But readers can be tough. Mix up your tenses enough, lose plot lines, kill off an already dead character, and confuse periods and commas and they’re through. I’ve seen reviews that rave about the book despite the poor writing. But I also see an equal or greater number of reviews murdering the book because of the lack of editing.

Readers look for an immersive experience. Take that away with poor editing and they might wash their hands of it. Editing can make or break a book. Some readers can still find the gem of a story, but others can’t.

Have or know of a gem of a book? Please send it my way!

Life Between the Pages: The Reviews Just Won’t Stop Stacking Up

I’ve been a huge reader all my life. In high school, if people didn’t know me as the girl who played the harp, they knew me as the girl who always carried the thick books. I went everywhere with a book. I still do; there’s one book that still hangs out in my car (it’s been about 10 years).

I read to my kids every single day. It’s never more than an hour total, but, over time, I do get through books at a good pace. It’s not quite the book a week it used to be, and it’s certainly nowhere near the pace many prolific book bloggers read at, but it’s my pace as a mom of two young children. But because I read to them every day, I always have to have a book on hand so I can jump right to it when the current one is done.

About a year and a half ago, I decided to start writing reviews. I was reading a lot of self-published books, so thought I’d do what I could to support them. Unfortunately, I never considered how much time it might take to write one. Well, writing one is easy. Writing a good and thoughtful review that’s well-balanced and honest isn’t always so easy. And it takes time to type.

Being a busy mom means it’s easy to read to my kids at naptime and bedtime, but it also means I don’t have much time to devote to writing reviews. And when I’m constantly jumping to the next book, I don’t get a lot of time to reflect and actually write.

So…the list of books waiting for a review keeps growing. I haven’t even updated the list in a while. It’s been at least two books. Maybe 3?

And, yet, I keep reading. The reviews keep stacking up. Perhaps I should go write one of them instead of continuing to ramble about my life with books.

I have got to find a way to make writing reviews easier and faster, but still provide a quality review. But, if I keep thinking, the list will just keep growing…

Books: Abandoned or Did Not Finish?

When my husband surprised me with my Kindle almost 10 years ago, I went a little book crazy. I got book after book with little regard to whether I actually liked the summary. Needless to say, there were quite a few books that I started and then wondered why on Earth I thought I’d like it. Some are still waiting for me to touch them.

My Kindle came with a handy little keyboard. It’s not made anymore, so I’m keeping my stranglehold on it as tight as possible. But with that handy little keyboard, where most of the letters have now been worn away, I created 3 categories: to read, read, and abandoned.

As a book lover, I hated seeing that last category, hated sending books to it. But there were some books I simply couldn’t stand, some books that I loathed so much I never wanted to see again. If they had been physical books, they would have been tossed in the donation box in the blink of an eye.

For years, I never really thought about that category. Every so often I would drop books in it and think of them no more. I seriously made myself struggle through some books simply because I didn’t want to add another abandoned book to the list.

Over the past year or so, I’ve come across the book blogging world. And in this world I kept seeing DNF. After reading a few of these posts, I quickly realized it means Did Not Finish.

Sounds a lot like my abandoned category. But sounds nicer?

Over the past year I’ve ruminated on whether I should rename my abandoned category. After all, did not finish sounds nicer than abandoned.

But why should I? I haven’t followed the crowd since I was a child. For about 20 years I’ve done things my own way. Just because did not finish sounds nicer doesn’t mean I can’t say I haven’t abandoned books because I didn’t like them.

I call them abandoned because I have zero intention on ever returning to them. I have, in the truest sense of the word, abandoned them. And when I finally have the time to figure out how to remove them from my library, I will. They have been abandoned, left behind, no longer looked at or regarded.

But I also call them abandoned because, in my own way, I did finish them. Many of these books were self-published. As a self-published author myself, I recognize the work that went into writing and figuring out how to self-publish. I respect that. So, even though I hated the book, I still skimmed through to the end. I still gave the whole story some fraction of my attention.

I do not DNF books (unless I actually lose them, which has happened [I periodically lose Origin of Species]). I finish them. I just…abandon the ones I don’t like.

What about you? Do you DNF books or abandon them like I do?

A Bookish Transition or a Bookish Phase?

A Bookish Transition or a Bookish Phase_

The Lily Cafe is going through a change. I can’t tell if it’s permanent or temporary, but evolution is usually inevitable.

Growing up, books were some of my best friends. I could always depend on them for adventure and countless daydreams. They were a way of life for me. I needed them. That remained true until earlier this year when I entered the worst reading slump I had ever been in.

For months, I hardly touched a book. I thought about them. I considered picking one and reading it. I had a few books in mind that I really wanted to read. But I didn’t. It wasn’t until August that I decided to do something about it.

Over the past couple of months, I have been reading more. Instead of blogging, I’ve been spending more time reading, which is one reason why I cut down from posting 5 days a week to 3 and why I am slower at leaving and responding to comments. I’ve been happily enjoying books that have been sitting on my Kindle for quite a while, books by self-published authors that I’ve found through blogging, and books from NetGalley.

Yup. Definitely out of my reading slump. And definitely enjoying books at my regular level, though not at my regular pace, which is quite challenging with two toddlers who demand my attention every moment their eyes are awake. Which is the better part of 14 hours, plus the however many times my youngest still wakes at night. But I am satisfied that my love of books remains and has been renewed with a vengeance.

But it means there will be more bookish posts here. I am adamant that this will not become a book blog, though. I tried it and, after a couple of months, became direly bored of writing on one topic. No, The Lily Cafe will remain a lifestyle blog, filled with stories of motherhood, the fantastical stories in my head, the odd recipe, and general ramblings of a real life person who is desperately holding tight to her last marble.

With my renewed interest in reading, though, there will be more book reviews and probably more posts about books. I can’t help it. I love books almost as much as I love my family. If I could live on books, I would. My love of books makes me wish I had studied English in college instead of psychology so I could be an editor and live and work surrounded by books. I still have dreams of having a room wholly devoted to books, though. I’ve always wanted my own personal library.

But a question keeps looping back: is this a transition or just as phase?

I can’t tell if another slump is heading my way. Maybe I’ll fall into one in a couple of months or maybe it’ll be twenty years. Maybe life will get busier as my kids get older and I look for a job in earnest. Maybe I just won’t have time in a few months to do as much reading. Will that mean I won’t be writing as much about books or will be writing about the books I long to read instead of book reviews?

More book reviews will be appearing on this blog, but I don’t know if this is a permanent transition or just a phase and in a few months I won’t be posting as many reviews. If you’ve been following for a while, you might have noticed several reviews earlier in the year, but a noticeable lack somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to know if that’s going to happen again. I’ve been on a reading roll, but life happens. It might come to a screeching halt.

Regardless, there will be more book reviews popping up than before and likely more bookish posts. That won’t stop me from posting my writings and posts related to being a mom. But there will definitely be more book-related things as the end of the year comes up fast. As a matter of fact, I have two reviews scheduled for this week alone.

Is this a transition to a more bookish blog (after all, my tagline does call me a bookish mom) or just a phase? I can’t tell, but I hope you’ll come along with me on this ride.

How I…Am Working My Way Out of a Reading Slump

How I...Am Working My Way Out of a Reading Slump

At the beginning of the year, I had a lofty goal of reading a book a week. I was doing quite well until mid-February when an absolutely annoying book dragged on for about 3 weeks. I just lost interest in reading. I read here and there, but am definitely not reading a book a week this year.

For months, I was consumed instead by just being a mom. But last month was emotionally rough and I did what I always did when life got hard: I turned to books.

But, while I was interested, I lacked the will. I have more books on my Kindle than I care to count, but none of them were screaming at me. I have books that have been sitting since at least 2011 (whoops). I have books from the now ended Kindle Scout program (which was a great way to get free books, but, as it turns out, I’ve almost hated most of the books from them that I have actually read, and have quite enjoyed some of the books that were not selected for publication). I have books that have been written by many authors that I follow (I promise I’ll get to them and will post reviews!).

I have many options. There are fantasy and sci-fi books, mysteries and thrillers, literary fiction novels, the odd romance, and an historical or two. You’d think there would be something that would pique my interest. Really, there are many books that I would love to read, but…well, I can’t always motivate myself to even look at them. Despite the fact that I love books.

In high school and college, I always had a book with me. People I didn’t know knew me because I was always toting around a book. And they weren’t slim little novels everyone was raving about. No, they were thick, heavy epic fantasies. There were a couple I could have used as weapons. I read every day. I read every night. At one point, I couldn’t even fall asleep without spending at least 15 minutes reading!

Becoming a mom only slightly slowed me down. Naptimes were prime reading time, especially with a baby slumbering on me. Nighttime wakings were also fantastic times. And my son still won’t go to sleep unless we read to him. My daughter is another story, but at least she’s currently obsessed with a germs book that’s teaching her good hygiene. And considering she’s 16 months and loves eating off the floor, this is a good book for her.

But that book I read in February just killed me. For the first time in a long time I had no desire to read. I had even started a much more interesting book after I managed to finish it, but I had just completely run out of steam. For 5 months.

So, what did I do to finally get out of my slump?

Well, it took a few steps.

  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover, but, in this case, just do it. As I scrolled through my library, I picked the first book I came to that was visually interesting. And I stopped scrolling. It didn’t matter what the book was about. I was going to start reading.
  2. 5, 10, 15, 20. I wasn’t invested in reading yet, and possibly had no real interest in this book that was visually appealing. So, I started with reading just 5 minutes for the day. After a day or two, I increased my daily reading time to 10 minutes, then 15, and so on. Usually I found myself reading longer, so I was satisfied. And whenever I think I don’t feel like reading, I start over with just 5 minutes.
  3. My 25% rule. I have so many books that I’m probably not actually interested in anymore. But goodness knows which ones those are! Instead, I set a 25% rule. If I enjoy the story by the time I reach the 25% mark, I’ll finish the book. If I hate the book by the time I get there, it automatically goes into my abandoned pile and I start back at step 1. Otherwise I finish, review, and return to step 1.
  4. Join NetGalley. I follow many book blogs and noticed many of them were getting free books in exchange for honest reviews. The Lily Cafe is a lifestyle blog, but I have a history of writing book reviews since books are life to me, so I thought why not? I had to at least try and getting one book would be worth it. Turns out I was approved for 4 in less than a week, so now I have some deadlines. Nothing like a deadline for someone who always meets them to get me reading. Which reminds me I need to get reading!

And that’s how I got out of a reading slump and 4 free books. How do you do it?