New Books to Recommend in 2015

How do you find new authors to read?

girl reading sitting on floor with feet up

Often, the best way is by word of mouth (which is why I encourage tweeting and commenting on this blog!)

But since I may not talk to you person to person, I’ve compiled a shortened list of some of my favorite reads from 2014, for your consideration as new conquests in 2015. Or maybe you’ve already enjoyed some of these authors? If so, tell me which ones!

I’ve left out big authors I’ve loved for a while, such as Diana Gabaldon and Laurie R. King, but here are the less-famous, but no-less-worthy treasure troves awaiting you!

Nonfiction/ Travel: Robert MacFarlane, The Old Ways

I read other nonfiction, mostly on writing and creativity, but this is the one capturing my attention these days, as I plan out an outdoorsy trip to Scotland. He meanders into philosophy, history, sociology–all to get at the intrinsic connection between ourselves and the landscapes we travel. Check it out on Amazon here.

Mystery: Louise Penny, Anne Perry, Josephine Tey, Simone St. James, Stephanie Barron

As you can see, I did a fair amount of mystery reading last year, mostly in an effort to learn more about the genre that seems to have the most pull on me as a writer. I read mainly as a reader, not as a critical writer, but I’m sure these authors’ works would yield a lot of lessons were I to pick apart the structure, the pacing, the plot wheels. If you’re not looking for that though, some all-in-all great reads!

Louise Penny has the Inspector Gamache series set in and around Quebec. Anne Perry has two series, both long-established, that I am just discovering and loving: Face of A Stranger and Treason at Lisson Grove were both captivating with their twists and turns and daring POV choices. Check out Anne Perry’s long back list on Amazon here, but don’t bother with Tathea.

Josephine Tey had the well-loved Inspector Alan Grant series in the 1940s, and I happened to read her last book first, but intend to go back! Simone St. James was a recommendation of Lucy’s Books, and didn’t disappoint. Inquiry into Love and Death involves a ghost hunter, WWI effects, and a gutsy heroine. Yes, please!

Stephanie Barron writes a series of books where Jane Austen is a solver of mysterious murders, but with delicacy and historical weight, not like the Jane-is-now-a-vampire imitators that aren’t worth the time.

Drama: Nancy Slavin, Moorings

I found this author’s book at my local Stumptown Lit event, and the struggles of her heroine, the dark pits of lost love, the setting as character itself– so good! Support this local Portlander like a good reader. 🙂

Romance/ Life As It Is: Judi Hendricks, Vivian Swift

Hendricks wrote Bread Alone, just a good story about a woman making her way to what she needs through all the stuff that tries to make her forget that. And it’s in Seatlle! So, a Northwest neighbor. Swift is an interesting hybrid: she illustrates journal-type books that are a joy to browse and reflect upon. I’ve read both, and recommend When Wanderers Cease to Roam as my favorite. She spent a year just slowing down from her jet-setter life, absorbing the pace of life in one place, and using watercolors to mark her course of learning about herself through the process. Great for the winter period, especially.

Supernatural: Susanna Kearsley, Anne Bishop

If you’ve read either of my books, perhaps you can tell that I like intrusions of the supernatural into the everyday. Kearsley does this with intuitive flashes, psychic abilities to see the past, and people with selective ESP. Firebird is still my favorite, as it takes the reader to Russia and a time in history I knew nothing about, so that was magic in itself!

And Bishop, well, she goes for it rather more ‘whole hog.’ Her series of The Others involves a well-crafted world of vampires, werewolves, and other beings whose origins hint at mythological origins, but obey more modern rules of the author’s. Someone described it as almost a sci-fi dystopian novel, which I can see, but the core of it is action, suspense, and shifting loyalties–I literally couldn’t put down the first one in Powell’s when I started browsing!

Speaking of which, if you want to purchase any of these books, you can follow the Amazon links, OR…. use Powell’s for probably the same deal! Click the icon to browse. 🙂 And happy reading in 2015!


How to describe wishlist places around the UK

If the last post piqued any interest, and you’re ready to jump onto the next plane to the UK to explore its territories, de be prepared for the language barrier.

I know, it’s England! Where they speak English! But as far as place-names go, you’ll find some of the oddest-sounding places ever in jolly ol’ England. And Scotland. And Wales. OMG, Wales.

Reading Douglas Botting’s book Wild Britain brought this point home to me when I found a number of words I didn’t know being used. Besides the usual Lake, Hill, and Forest, there were all-new words to consider, coming from ancient Celtic languages or showing their Scandinavian roots.

Here are some of my favorite new terms.

new forest national park martin o'neill

Types of woodland/ grassland: incidentally, these are all found in the New Forest (shown above, in the stunning photo by Martin O’Neill)

  • Ashley Rolling Down: “a heathland with tree clumps” and as in the famous Sussex Downs where Russell met Holmes
  • Matley Bog: “mixed wet and dry heath with an overtly boggy centre” (and by the way, bogs are known as mosses or flothers in Northumberland)
  • Hinchelsea Moor: “a medium profile landscape”
  • Heath: a shrubland habitat found mainly on free-draining infertile, acidic soils, and is characterised by open, low-growing woody vegetation, whence comes Heathrow…and the photo of gorse and heather below)

devon heath

Types of wetland

  • Insh Marshes: a wetland fen (not very helpful, aye?)
  • Somerset Levels: a belt of slightly raised land along the West Country coast, “subject to widespread annual flooding”
  • Norfolk Broads: lakes in a series of river valleys, “the remains of large-scale peat diggings which flooded as the land sank in the 14th century”
  • Wicken Fen: “one of the few undrained areas of the fenland that once covered East Anglia” and “a strange, flat land  enormous skies, empty horizons, and endless acres of reed and sedge upon a thick rich silt and a blanket of sedge peat”

bleaberry tarn lake district

Upland Categories and Examples

  • Buttermere Fell: a high and barren landscape feature, such as a mountain range or moor-covered hills (where the picture above was taken from, showing Bleaberry Tarn, (a mountain lake)–didn’t I tell you there was a language barrier?)
  • Derbyshire Dales: a Norse word for valley
  • Glen: a valley, typically long, deep, and glacially U-shaped, from the Gaelic word for valley
  • Tor: a large, free-standing rock outcrop that rises abruptly from the surrounding smooth and gentle slopes of a rounded hill summit or ridge crest (and by the way, Wikipedia says “[tor] is notable for being one of the very few Celtic loanwords to be borrowed into vernacular English before the modern era”). Think Keira Knightley in Pride and Prejudice.

keira knightley tor pride prejudice

And as a bonus: Cannock Chase, in the Shropshire Hills, gives me the opportunity to dazzle you with this bit of trivia: Where did the name Chevy Chase come from?

Well, the actor was named (or stage-named) after the town in Maryland, I believe, which was named after The Ballad of Chevy Chase, which told of an epic battle that took place in the Cheviot Hills of lowland Scotland (nicknamed ‘Chevy’ for the occasion).

A ‘chase’ is a parcel of hunting land, in this case one that was fought over by the Scots and the English.

What an embarrassment of riches when it comes to place name descriptors!

What’s the strangest name yo’ve come across lately? Leave a comment to join in!

Wishlist Places around the UK

I thought today would be a good day for a roundup of interesting places I’ve come across in my wanderings online, that I’d like to visit in my meanderings on-land!

Mother’s Shipton’s Cave & Petrifying Well


This is a tourist site, yes, but so fascinating! Famous both for a woman who lived there in the 16th century (‘Mother Shipton’) who made lots of prophecies that seem to have come true, AND for the well on the site whose water has such a high mineral content that it turns things to stone. According to the gift shop, the average teddy bear takes 3-5 months to turn to stone.

Cramond Island

Cramond Island causeway anti-submarine pylons

An island that comes and goes! I’ve never been to Mont St. Michel, but it seems fun to visit someplace that is only accessible part of the time. Maybe it’s the risk involved–will I be stuck out here?? Or maybe it’s just a beautifully preserved sanctuary, so close to bustling Edinburgh. Don’t forget the anti-submarine pylons guarding you as you go across the Firth of Forth–adding WWII history to the mix.

Or if you’ve got an £2,700 to spare for a week’s stay, try here:

achnacloich hall

…at Achnacloich near Oban. You didn’t know a room could scream Scottish Baronial, did you?

And if you actually ARE in the area, here’s something happening in a couple weeks (Jan 24-25):

Coll & the Cosmos

“Coll & The Cosmos is a stargazing weekend break on the Isle of Coll which makes the most of the island’s incredible dark skies.” It also looks like the places I’ll be profiling for setting in my next novel, which starts out in western Scotland’s Hebridean islands… 😉

Or there’s always the dream house:

The Lodge Treehouse Loch Goil

The Lodge on Loch Goil.



Images at respective websites except for Coll & the Cosmos

Editing: Take Two

I just published my second novel. Ta-da!

In many ways, it was more of a learning process than publishing the first one. Here, two of my biggest editing lessons:

1) Do Not Let Expectations Run the Show!

This was a lesson I seem to learn over and over again, this time in Publishing! You see, I’d done it once already, so I figured it would all be pretty much the same the second time around. Uhh…

chill out i got this

The difference was that the original manuscript for Dulci’s Legacy had been drafted in one month, not eighteen months. This meant that there were a lot more plot-holes and unfinished thoughts than in Memory’s Hostage… which meant that the editing to be done was fierce.

I went through a round of beta readers, a couple of the same people and a few new ones, and had already started revising before I saw that there was something missing. Back to the drawing board! I decided to get a professional editor’s opinion of what that was, which took a month.

Then I tried to figure out what I wanted to do about the Big Giant Elephant(s) she had pointed out, which took another month.

Then I decided to just rewrite the whole damned thing, which took TWO more months.

Obviously the old schedule was out the window by that point, and I just had to keep adapting.

2) There Is A Way To Balance Efficiency With Capacity!

At the outset of editing Dulci’s Legacy (back in January of 2014), I had thought that my big discovery would be about how many editing ‘layers’ I could combine without getting sloppy. If that doesn’t make sense, let me break it down:

  1. typos/spelling
  2. grammar
  3. paragraph spacing and flow
  4. word choice and exposition
  5. plot pacing
  6. name/age/place/other fact inconsistencies
  7. scene-and-sequel (hat tip to Shanna B. on that one)
  8. character development and motivation

These are all layers of editing, in approximate reverse order of how they are usually performed. They can be broken up and done by different people if desired, e.g. someone who is a grammar queen can do #1, without also having to be up on the traditional story structure do’s and don’t’s.

But as I was trying to save money and do most of the layers on my own or with beta readers, I wanted each sweep through the book to combine as many as possible without losing quality of focus. For instance, obviously I’d need to read through once solely concentrating on character development. Question then became, ‘how many characters can I ‘concentrate on’ at once?’

So you can see how you’d want to strike a balance between trying to do All The Things and doing none of them well, and going through your manuscript a jazillion times with just one thing in mind each time, which would well nigh kill a man.

buried under papers help

So! Here’s how I did it this time, so that I can have a roadmap (but not strict expectations!!) next time:

1) Pull .scriv off of cobwebby shelf and Revise For Visibility– things that would hinder reading through for comprehension, such as typos, spacing, formatting rules (that one should get its own post), em-dashes, hyphens, chapters, tabs, and more. This streamlines the text so that I can actually see past the letters on the page, and remember how it all ends! Also, flag possible inconsistencies, but Do Not Worry about them now.

2) Now for deeper plot questions and the tension buildup! Now that you remember how it ends, does the whole story hang together? Are there scenes that need shoe-horning? Flag these, but Do Not Worry about them now.

3) OK, NOW is the time to worry about the flags. Write up a list of them, or just use the comments in Scrivener or Word and kill them as you go. This is a tricky run-through, as there will be countless snags and things to ruminate over. Fine, ruminate, but don’t stay away for too long. Keep the hamster turning in your head. Maybe you can skip it if it’s particularly hard, but then you’ll need to make a note to see to it later.

4) And finally! A copyeditor is in order. This is where a fresh pair of eyes would be particularly useful. A few beta readers could come in handy here, as well as earlier for the overall plot arc, if you’re not confident in that area, of if you’re not in a hurry.

5) Final spelling/spacing/any new typos? Also good to have a fresh pair of eyes, as redoing your final version when you get to the uploading-to-Amazon stage is an excruciating pain.

And now you’ve won the chance to go to Formatting Hell! Congratulations. (Also known as trying to make your book look like a team of professionals worked on the interior AND the cover.. Good luck!)

…I have lots of sites I went to for information on this last piece of formatting, so maybe I’ll make a post about that experience soon!

Have you found a similar combination works well for you? Where do you draw the line for beta reader tasks vs. paid professional tasks? Are you still trying to do everything yourself? (I feel ya!) Let me know in the comments!


Images via AmusingTime and Balancing Change Mindfully