The summer of “can’t put down” books
Back to school is around the corner and I’m helping my two boys, who waited until the last minute (again) to complete their book reports. I decided to lead by example. I’ve already confessed to being a not-so-closeted romance reader and writer. You also know that my favorite time for reading romance novels is at the beach, and we’ve just returned from our family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. So, I thought I’d share 10 books from my summer reading list. It’s also a bit more eclectic than normal since I’m researching my next novel, Schrodinger Effect, which features Vonna from Paths Less Traveled. In no particular order:
1. Neil Gaiman – The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Fantasy.
Neil Gaiman started out writing a short story, but ended up with this lovely little novella. A suicide releases a supernatural creature into our world. In trying to send the creature back, Lettie Hempstock unwittingly allows it to lodge inside a 7 year old boy. Years later, that boy returns home for a funeral and discovers he’s forgotten about that summer day and the magic at the end of the lane.
This is a great little story. I fell into the narrator’s voice, spellbound. I finished it in one sitting, pausing only grudgingly to get a plate of food before the teenagers at the beach ate it all. The only criticism I have of it is the price-point. At $15.00 it’s expensive for a novella, and at $9.99 it’s a really expensive e-book. Now, I bought my advanced copy through Barnes and Noble because it was a signed copy. Still, I think the price is well worth it.
2. Kevin J. Anderson – Veiled Alliances – Fantasy.
In my opinion, Kevin is one of the greatest world-builders writing today. Veiled Alliances is a prequel to his Saga of the Seven Suns series. One hundred and fifty years after the Earth sent out its generation ships, Earth’s government has given way to a puppet king controlled by the Hanseatic League. The generation ships are found and given safe harbors by an alien race. With the gift of FTL (Faster Than Light) engines, Earth is poise on the brink of becoming a major player in the universe.
I “read” this one on audio book. The 4 plus hour recording got me most of the way to the beach. Unlike some prequels this one wasn’t forced or awkward. A large part of that is likely due to Kevin’s detailed outlining. Before Kevin had written the first word for the series, he would have already known the events set forth in this prequel. Whether you’ve read the other books in the series, or Veiled Alliances is your first journey to the Seven Suns, it’s definitely worth reading.
3. Jeaniene Frost - Halfway to the Grave. – Urban Fantasy with Romance.
Cat, the kick-butt heroine, is half-vampire. She hunts the undead in an effort to find and slay her father for destroying her mother’s life. Then she's captured by Bones, a vampire and vampire bounty hunter, and is forced into an unholy partnership. Cat agrees to help Bones cull the undead population in return for his help finding and exterminating her father. Life and unlife is never that simple though, and Cat finds Bones more tempting than any man with a heartbeat.
I also finished this one in a day. The tone and take no prisoners heroine reminded me a lot of Gini Koch’s Alien Series. One of my friend loaned me this book at the beach when I’d run out of other stories. It was the first time I’d read anything by Ms. Frost. I’m definitely looking up the rest of the series.
4. Sloane Taylor – French Tart (Naughty Ladies of Nice) – Erotic Romance.
Donatienne Dubois pins her hope for a “normal” life on an exclusive cooking school in Nice, France. But one by one her expectations are shattered. Donni’s lifesaver is a bad boy too hot not to handle. For his part, Mark Anderson, is incognito, hating every moment. To pose as a student while keeping tabs on a rich wild child is his version of hell, until he partners with the dish of Crème Brulée good enough to eat.
I love Sloane’s writing, ability to transport a reader to the exotic locations she sets her stories and her characters. French Tart, a novella, lived up to all my expectations for Sloane’s work. I especially loved the foul-mouthed parrot who develops a crush on Donni.
5. John E. Douglas and Mark Olshaker – The Cases that Haunt Us – Nonfiction.
Certain homicide cases maintain an undeniable, almost mystical hold on the public imagination. This analysis of seven of the most notorious murder cases in the history of crime -- from the Whitechapel murders to JonBenet Ramsey -- often contradicts conventional wisdom and legal decisions. Using modern profiling techniques, the book reexamines cases we all know, and sometimes reaches fascinating and haunting results.
This is one of the many resource books I’m using for Schrodinger Effect. The writers take you through the criminal investigative process for each of the cases, noting how preconceptions or just investigative mismanagement affected the ultimate outcomes. A great resource and well-handled and sensitive narrative given the topics.
6. Brenda Novak - Whiskey Creek series – Romance
Brenda Novak’s romances are great examples of the genre. One of the things I like about this series is that the first book, When Lightning Strikes, introduces us to a group of high school friends approximately 10 years after graduation, and each book in the series (so far) has focused on one character’s happily ever after. The world Brenda Novak builds has a high degree of continuity and characters from the other books continue to interact as they really would have in any small community.
7. Lee Child – Jack Reacher series, Books 1-5 – Thrillers. Jack Reacher is a retired Military Police officer with a monster case of wanderlust. His travels seem to leave him in the right places at the right time to become enmeshed in kidnapping, murder and mayhem. Given his military background and specialized MP training, Reacher’s highly competent in many areas, and more than holds his own against FBI and Secret Service experts. I’ve listened to these books on audiotape. Dick Hill is a fabulous narrator.
8. David Farland – Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing – Nonfiction.
A must read for every writer. Dave has long spoken about by drawing power from stories that came before; resonating with their readers' experiences, and by resonating within their own works. Frankly, Dave could sell this book for LOTS more and it would still be worth every penny. He teaches you exactly what resonance is and how to use it to make your stories more powerful with examples of how it is used in literature and other art forms, and how one writer, J. R. R. Tolkien, mastered it in his work.
9. John Scalzi, Editor - METAtropolis – anthology – Post-apocalyptic fantasy
Audible was running one of its book specials, and out of the audiobooks I could get for $4.95 was this anthology. I have to admit I picked this one because it had one of the longer run times (I drive about 3 hours a day), and the high quality writers who contributed to the work.
METAtropolis is a shared-world anthology, where all the stories take place in the same created urban fantasy world, but it’s more than that. A typical anthology has a common theme – ex. Humorous horror stories – and the writers have little direction beyond that. A braided anthology has a through line and character. This is another step up in continuity. The five writers collaborated on the world. They all had the same blue print when they set their characters free and let them interact with this world.
10. Harlan Cobin – Six Years – Thriller/ Suspense
Grammar Girl, Mignon Fogarty, recommended Six Years on her podcast. I met Mignon several years ago at Superstars Writing Seminar, and have often liked the books she’s recommended. She didn’t let me down. Again, this was an audiobook for me.
Six years have passed since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd. Then Jake comes across Todd’s obituary. At the funeral, Jake gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife…but she’s not Natalie. As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. His search for the woman who broke his heart, who lied to him, soon puts his life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on a carefully constructed fiction.
This is another “can’t put down story.” It’s not a romance since the love story plays second fiddle to the mystery Jake’s trying to unravel. Cobin handles both the romance and the mystery with a deft touch. The characters are believable and I was rooting for Jake to solve the mystery, find the girl and live happily ever after. But you’ll have to read it to find out if he did.
Now it's time to get out to the pool with a book and enjoy the last few days of summer.