Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The End is Always Near (Book Review)

 As a writer, I consider any non-fiction book I read potential research for stories. One book I recently borrowed from the library for research is The End Is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments, from the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses. The author is Dan Carlin, who hosts a podcast called Hardcore History. I wasn't familiar with the podcast before reading this book; I prefer to take in information visibly instead of audibly. This book consists of several chapters that apparently are revised versions of some of Carlin's podcasts. (A Goodreads reviewer pointed this out.)

As I write this blog on Sunday, I'm only partway through this book. Some of the early chapters don't seem to meet the theme of this book, such as the one on parenting. While it's an interesting read, it wasn't what I expected. Another early chapter discusses how tough people are today versus those from previous areas. Carlin seems to think earlier people were tougher, ignoring the health and education benefits we have today.

Later chapters deal with historical events that fit the theme, like the fall of the Roman Empire and pandemics. These chapters not only describe what happened but also discuss the ramifications (such as the Black Death giving peasants opportunity to claim farmland). One thing I don't like about Carlin's writing style is his putting so many asides in footnotes. This disrupts the flow of the main text.

Despite its flaws, the book is worth reading. I'm not sure yet if I'll listen to the podcasts.

Do you enjoy reading about history? If so, do you have favorite eras? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Bird Watching

 One thing I love to do in the winter is feed the birds. A side benefit of working more from home this year is being able to watch them at lunch. For a suburban area, we get a pretty good variety. Our visitors include cardinals, blue jays, chickadees, mourning doves, juncos, downy woodpeckers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and unidentified sparrows. This year, I'm also getting some birds I haven't noticed before, like these two:

This is a junco, but not the slate-colored variety I normally see. I posted this picture in a Facebook birding group, and the consensus seems to be that it's a pink-sided junco normally found out west. I wonder if it could be a hybrid between different varieties.

The bird below is also new to me this year. I thought at first it was a pine siskin, but someone else thought it could be a song sparrow. I really need to work on identifying my sparrows!

Do you like watching or feeding birds? Do you have a favorite? If so, feel free to share it in the comments.



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Mid-Month Mysteries: Tea

What can be cozier in the middle of winter than cradling a cup of your favorite warm beverage in your cold hands? For me, that beverage is tea, particularly green tea. My favorite type is jasmine pearl green tea, but I also enjoy other types like sencha and gyokuro. On the left is my teapot, also known as PorgPot. He's been my most valuable coworker at home.

There are several cozy mystery series out there featuring tea or tea shops, but many of the ones I've read feature not just the beverage, but the ritual of afternoon tea. I particularly enjoyed the Chintz 'n China series by Yasmine Galenorn. You can find the first book, Ghost of a Chance, here. It's been a while since I read that series, but I think the main character sells a lot of teapots in addition to tea. Another author who writes about tea shops is Laura Childs in her Tea Shop Mysteries (see link for the series list). I just finished the first book in the series, Death by Darjeeling. While her descriptions of tea are the best I've read in cozy mysteries, other parts of the book didn't work so well for me. However, I'm particularly looking forward to Erin Johnson's Spelling the Tea, which will be published later this month and is the first book in a vampire tea room mystery series. I enjoyed Johnson's Spells and Caramels series. Other tea cozy mystery books I've found on Goodreads but haven't read include Steeped in Murder and Pushing Up Daisies

Tea can feature in a mystery by being a vehicle for poison. The poison can either be added to the tea, or the tea can also be brewed with toxic plants. Hot water can also be used as a defensive weapon.

Abigail Ritter, the heroine of my upcoming Magic Lake Mysteries series, will be running a tea shop, but her focus will be on fruit teas and bubble teas. 

What's your favorite type of tea? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

IWSG: Writer Turnoffs

Welcome to the first Insecure Writer's Support Group post of 2021! We're here to share our concerns and encourage other writers. Learn more about the IWSG on their website, Facebook page, or Twitter.

Our hosts this month are Ronel Janse van Vuuren, J Lenni Dorner, Gwen Gardner, Sandra Cox, and Louise-Fundy Blue.

Here's our question for the month: As a writer, when you're reading someone else's work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people's books?

Writers are probably much more critical readers than pure readers. For example, last month, I read the first book in a cozy mystery series by a bestselling author. (Title and author name withheld.) The first chapter contained a mistake about the main character's profession (she had a degree that didn't exist). The second chapter was a breakup scene, but the structure of it didn't make sense to me. The unemployed boyfriend first worried about his girlfriend was going to pay the bills, then announced he had just landed a new acting job in a new city (rendering his first complaint moot), and then finally came out as gay after three years of being together. I found out later this author is supposed to be funny, so maybe what I thought were bugs were actually examples of her humor. However, I also found many of the side characters to be stereotypes, and the murderer turned out to be someone who hadn't been part of the story before then. These were elements that didn't work for me, but many of the reviewers on Goodreads seemed to enjoy the story. I think the readers were reacting to other, emotional aspects of the story that didn't work for me. I finished the book mainly for my annual Goodreads reading challenge. This year, I'm backing off on my reading goal slightly so I have more freedom to quit books I don't care for.

Perhaps this the best way to sum up my frustrations with other people's books: my personality type is INTJ, which is the rarest type among women. Many books that appeal to other people don't appeal to me, and I worry about making my works emotionally appealing to others. I'm hoping as I continue to write and try new genres to find more common ground with my readers.

What frustrates you about other people's works? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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