At the beach or in space – to escape is a pleasure

Freshly back from 4 weeks of offline holiday I have a few things to say about what I’ve been reading.

I think I rediscovered the escapist nature of reading fiction. The weather was a bit sad with quite a lot of strong winds, cool temperatures and rain rather than the stunning hot sunny days I was expecting for my holiday. That meant I spent more time than I expected indoors with a book.

I’d read for a while and then look up, realising I’d become totally engaged with the characters, the setting and plot. I felt a bit torn about that as apart from the weather I was myself in a setting that was itself escapist: countryside only a few hundred metres from a long quiet beach, and with birds of all kinds, butterflies and occasionally a few cows across the fence.

Our beach retreat.

Our beach retreat. The containers are on the property across the road. The sea is some 800 metres in a straight line from us, behind the trees in the background.

The book topics

I prefer to read lightweight murder mysteries and also sci-fi, preferably space opera. I generally choose only books with strong women as lead characters, and prefer books written by women. While I don’t care too much for literature these days, I do enjoy well-written books and commonly don’t even make it through the sample of very poorly written books.

Oh, and I really only read ebooks, mainly from Amazon and on my Kindle Paperwhite.

The authors

There are several authors whose series I’ve been reading over the last few years. I don’t think my latest bout included any of their works, but I want to mention them here anyway. [Links in this post are mainly affiliate links.]

  • Marcia Muller — her private detective, Sharon McCone has grown and developed over the last few decades. These books are always a good read, interesting and intelligent. What amazes me when I re-read the earlier books is how much society has changed with cellphones and the Internet. No more waiting till some office opens to search for information, or desperately running to find a pay phone.
  • Dana Stabenow — her investigator Kate Shugak lives in the heart of Alaska. These books are engaging on many levels and I’m eagerly awaiting the next chapter in Shugak’s adventures. I’ve also read Stabenow’s Liam Campbell series and really enjoyed her brief foray into sci-fi with the character Star Svensdotter. Alaska seems endlessly fascinating and I never tire of Stabenow’s descriptions.
  • Nevada Barr — Anna Pigeon is a Park Ranger who has adventures in various National Parks in the US. These books have their dark moments, but I must say I’ve felt inspired to want to visit many of the Parks that serve as settings. In particular, Blind Descent is set almost entirely underground in the Carlsbad Caverns, a place I now very much want to visit (not as a caver though, but as a tourist who goes on the easy guided afternoon visit). It’s a remarkable feat to get away with setting a book entirely in a cave.
  • Melissa Good first came to my attention way back when Xena was on TV and I found her fan fiction from the series. She later went on to write a couple of episodes of the show. Her Dar and Kerry series of books are a spin-off from that and are a darn good read. In writing this post I find she’s launched into sci-fi too. Sample downloaded.
  • Betty Webb‘s Lena Jones series takes us to the deserts of Arizona. It has its dark moments, but I really enjoyed the series.
  • Kathy Brandt — her Underwater Investigations series set in the British Virgin Islands are a good read. The boxed set of Kindle books is a great price.
  • Lori L. Lake — it seems I’ve bought some of each of the Gun and Public Eye series, but not all. As I recall, I enjoyed reading them, so maybe I just got distracted before buying and reading the rest.

Don’t read these — the warning signs

If I’ve found an author new to me I always download a free sample of their book before buying. Over the summer I was looking for lightweight reading and discovered what seemed to be a whole genre of cosy murder mysteries set in quirky local places, such as the fictitious Sinful, Louisiana or small town Georgia. While I found some books very enjoyable, such as Jana DeLeon’s Miss Fortune series mentioned below, others were unbearable, poorly written efforts or plain boring.

I soon learned to beware of any books whose description included hilarious or some synonym, such as these partial quotes from reviews of an author I don’t choose to name: This book is hysterical and I haven’t read a book this funny since ….

Maybe it’s because I’m not an American, but the hilarious books generally weren’t. The writing tended to be forced and just generally trying too hard for humour. Sometimes they were just too derivative of other, better authors, such as the early Janet Evanovich books.

Hmmm, I wanted to refer back to some of the specific books I sampled and deleted, but it seems no record remains. I suggest always downloading a free sample before buying work from an author you don’t already know.

Side note on Janet Evanovich: I really enjoyed the early books from this author: the first was extremely funny. I no longer bother with the new books though as after the first few each book simply seemed to be a repeat of all the previous books. The plots became cliche, the characters didn’t seem to learn or grow or change. The formula is set.

Shark and dog. The nearby beach is different on every visit. One morning a dead shark had been left by the tide.

Shark and dog. The nearby beach is different on every visit. One morning a dead shark had been left by the tide.

Summer reading

  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch: in July 2013 I hit the trifecta: murder mystery, sci-fi and strong women all in one glorious package, with the Retrieval Artist series. Intelligent, smart ideas about tech and society in the future, well-written. I’m a definite fan who has gone on to read numerous other works by this prolific author. And I’m still reading. Her work is compelling.
  • I subscribed to Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s website too and read most of the freebee short stories she sends out on Mondays. They end with a very wonderful Send to Kindle button which means I can more easily choose how to read them. Also a superb read for anyone interested in writing is her Thursday series of blog posts: Rusch has incredibly useful and practical things to say about the business of writing.
  • Jana DeLeon — her Miss Fortune series set in the bayous of Louisiana is fun. She uses gentle and understated humour and has not just one strong female character but a whole bunch of them. I’m pacing myself on the third book so it’s not over too quickly.
  • Tony Healey is an English author, as you can easily tell from some turns of phrase in his Far From Home series. His series is fairly derivative from Star Trek (Voyager, in particular), with obvious references in characters, character names, plot devices and so on. I happen to really like Star Trek: Voyager though so soon got over any annoyance around that. The big surprise for me though was that while reading I kept thinking the book sorely needed a good editor, only to find Healey thanking his editor at the end. While the writing was overall pretty good Healey sometimes uses entirely the wrong word and that can be jarring. I don’t have any examples to hand but clearly he sometimes has one word in mind while using a similar word with an entirely different meaning. I’ve gone on to buy the sequels though. Lots of good strong women, including the captain of the starship.

I start back at work on Monday. Reading fiction may well fall by the wayside again, though I still have a few books in the queue. I’m torn between digging in and escaping, and stretching them out so it will be longer before I have to find more authors I enjoy.

I’m also definitely avoiding looking too closely at my Amazon purchase history. I haven’t spent this much money on books for decades… It’s all thanks to ebooks and the Kindle.

Let me know how you find the authors I’ve listed above.