Small Press, Great Books

Michael Dirda had a column in The Washington Post about small presses that I found interesting. Some of these smaller presses are doing innovative and interesting things in publishing so they are often worth a look. Whether you are looking for mysteries or reissues of great literature or just English translations of excellent books from around the world, you are sure to find something that appeals from one of these publishers.

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Print vs Ebook Sales

Last week, The Guardian published two articles with titles that purported to discuss the decline of ebooks and the resurgence of print in the UK. Additionally, CNN had a story online about the same situation playing out in the US.

The first article, How ebooks lost their shine, is actually more about the bounce back of print books and books as art objects (versus books as reading material). The article even states “The figures from the Publishing Association should be treated with some caution. They exclude self-published books, a sizable market for ebooks. And, according to Dan Franklin, a digital publishing specialist, more than 50% of genre sales are on ebook. Digital book sales overall are up 6%.”

The second article, Screen fatigue sees UK ebook sales plunge 17% as readers return to print, does not make the same note about the statistics but goes more in depth as to the fact that the decline might be attributable to the decline of dedicated ereaders in favor of tablets and cell phones which are harder to read on.

The CNN story gives similar data and ends with a depressing statistic for the US, “A quarter of the population hadn’t read a book of any kind, whether in print, electronic or audio form.”

Both Guardian articles have good points but I think reading all three of the articles together gives a better and fuller picture of the British and US book market and reader engagement.

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Old School Mysteries


In honor of this weekend’s Malice Domestic conference, the Washington Post’s Michael Dirda recommends some mysteries from the 1930s that have been reissued and will likely be fun reading for any fan of Christie or Doyle. I definitely plan to check out some of these older works and also have on my TBR Amy Stewarts’ Kopp Sisters mysteries, new works in the old school style.

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EU Court Allows Library Ebook Lending

Last month, the Court of Justice of the European Union put forward a ruling that libraries may lend ebooks just like physical books so long as authors are paid for their work. It appears that until now libraries in the EU did not have the right to lend ebooks the way libraries in America have for quite some time.

Publishers, of course, are quite unhappy with the decision because they will lose some money. However, the apocalyptic rhetoric coming from publishers is obviously overblown. If publishers have been able to make ebook lending work in America, they can certainly do so in the EU. Additionally, the idea that they find this decision shocking is ludicrous. Back in June, the advocate general for the court published an opinion on this case so publishers had five months to prepare for the court’s ruling.

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Read A Romance Month 2016


August is a Read a Romance Month so I thought I’d provide a few content links for readers looking for articles, essays, book recommendations, and interviews on romance.

Check out the feature on Alaskan author Jennifer Bernard in the Alaska Dispatch News. The article not only talks about Bernard and her books but also touches on the enduring disregard for romance. But Bernard has a great quote that readers and writers alike can agree with:

“I grew up in an academic family that disdained romance,” she said. “In order to even attempt to write my first book, I had to grapple with that ‘snobbish’ attitude. I had to figure out why I wanted to write, and who I was writing for.”

She soon realized that she had little interest in impressing the literary community.

“I wanted to write for people,” she said. “People who are looking for a laugh, or a happy sigh or the delicious satisfaction of a happy ending.”

Bustle also has a number of pieces on romance that are worth reading, including a recommended romance list for readers of classic literature. If you can only read one article in Bustle’s set, it should be “Bustle’s Romance Novel Month Celebrates A Genre Dominated By Strong, Smart Women”.

And, of course, the Read a Romance Month site has daily posts by romance writers from across the genre so look for your favorite author and maybe discover someone new to read.

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Picking Books: Editors or Data Mining?

NPR recently published a blog post on how to judge which book will sell well – editor judgment or data from ebooks. It’s an interesting 21st century problem along with the fact that traditional publishers lose money on 80% of the books they publish according to the article.

There are, of course, a lot of problems with strictly using data to determine whether a book is worth publishing – which I should note no one in the article says is a good idea. It ignores any segment of the reading population that doesn’t read ebooks – perhaps they would buy and enjoy a book that readers of ebooks didn’t like.

My other major objection is that a book that does well in terms of the data might lead publishers to publish a number of books that an algorithm says are similar. This will mean a spate of books that are all the same which history tells us readers do NOT want. Everyone should remember the Twilight publishing phenomenon where suddenly there were eight million YA paranormal romance novels and none of them were the “next Twilight” because readers had already moved on.

There is likely a place for data mining in the publishing realm but I suspect that it is a small piece of a very large puzzle of what readers want and when so that another 500 years from now it will still remain as much a mystery as it is today.

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UK Independent Bookstores As Destinations

I see a lot on social media about the resurgence of independent bookstores in the US so I was interested when I saw this article on independent bookstores in the UK. It seems the rise of the independent is not limited by geography and the reasons for it are strikingly similar.

The shop local movement and the increase in cost of ebooks by traditional publishers is not a strictly US phenomenon so it stands to reason that those are both factors in the UK as well. In fact, the article states that, “According to data group Euromonitor, the UK is now buying around half the number [of ebooks] that it was five years ago.”

Like in the US, independent bookstores in the UK are increasingly using their community knowledge and building their stores around more than the latest bestseller. Some have story times for children, some have coffee or cocktail bars, some include art classes, but all of them have become community destinations.

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Tsundoku – Say What Now?

I saw this great article about the Japanese word “tsundoku” meaning “reading pile”. All avid readers likely have the same problem I do where I buy far more books than I can read and so they pile up – unread – around my apartment. Tsundoku excellently describes this and I am going to start using it.

What other non-English words perfectly describe readers or reading phenomenon?

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April and May 2016 TBR Books Read

No, I didn’t fall off the face of the planet 🙂 I clearly dropped the ball on blog posts over the last month for a wide variety of reasons, none of which you care about in the least. But I did do the TBR reading for both April and May! So you get two TBR posts rolled into one.

In April, I needed to run a colleague’s book club while she was on vacation and the book selection was The Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff. I thought that worked out perfectly since I had that on my TBR list for nearly a year and it gave me the perfect excuse to read the hefty work of nonfiction. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with this book. It seemed like Schiff couldn’t figure out who her audience was – it’s billed as a book for a general readership but it was written as if an academic audience would be reading it. It felt like a dissertation. This turned out to be the consensus of the book club as well.

A second nonfiction pick from my TBR in April was Murder of a Medici Princess by Caroline Murphy. This was an interesting book featuring Isabella Medici, who was not familiar to me. I like nonfiction about strong, independent women in times when women were basically ignored when they weren’t being bought or sold. Isabella was the definition of independent despite the time she lived in and the husband who eventually murdered her. It was a good read – scholarly but it didn’t read like a textbook.

For my fantasy in April, I read Grave Witch by Kalayna Price. This is an urban fantasy but the plot is driven by a murder mystery. It took me a bit to get into this and the pacing felt a little off to me but overall I did enjoy Grave Witch and read the next couple of books in the series which were good and kept me guessing almost the whole way through.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones – I binge read the first seven books in this series in a week! Because of that I am counting the series as both mystery and romance – because it does an excellent job of balancing both genres throughout. I loved Charley, Reyes, and the secondary characters and found this series compulsively readable. It was a fun and funny urban fantasy with excellent plots, good flow, interesting characters, and solid action. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of this series.

George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yeager – I had this book on my TBR since 2014 so when it came up in my library’s ebooks, I went ahead and read it in May. Overall, it was a very good book on a fairly short period during the Revolutionary War and illuminated real people most of us have never heard of despite their contribution to US independence. It was a quick read with plenty of action and engaging prose to keep the reader interested. My one quibble is that the book is nonfiction but there are “conversations” in the text that are fictional. The authors are clear that they did this at the beginning of the book – they don’t pretend the conversations are real – but that’s a slippery slope I’m not at all comfortable with in nonfiction works.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce – My fantasy pick this month is actually a children’s book. While this specific book was not on my TBR, I’ve had a note to read a Tamora Pierce book on my TBR for a few years so when my colleague recommended this series and handed me the book, I decided to go with it. I’m very glad I did as I enjoyed it a great deal! It’s a fast read and there is some pretty obvious foreshadowing throughout the book but overall, I would definitely recommend it.

Ripped from the Pages by Kate Carlisle – I’ve been reading the Bibliophile mystery series since the first book was published but when they switched over to hardcover from mass market, my reading of each new title was delayed as I waited for the paperback. Ripped from the Pages was published in January of 2015 and it went onto my TBR at that time but the paperback didn’t come out until just last month. While I enjoyed revisiting the characters I’ve grown to love, this book was not as good as others in the series. It was interesting to learn more about Guru Bob’s past and family but the original murder mystery was anticlimactic and the second murder mystery felt rushed.

Ultimate Vengeance by Nancy Haviland – I will admit that using Ultimate Vengeance as my romance read this month in May is cheating a little bit. I will say that it has been on my TBR pile since last year but it was actually only just published on May 31st – and I read it the day it came out! I had been looking forward to this book since I read the third in the Wanted Men series – which I highly recommend! – but I was disappointed to find that Ultimate Vengeance had not been copy-edited AT ALL. The plot, the characters, the pacing, the twists were all classic Wanted Men and it would have been one of the best books I’ve read this year except for all the typos. One or two typos I can ignore, but in the first three chapters alone, I cringed through more than half a dozen and it completely throws me out of the story. I expect better from Haviland and hope that when she publishes the next book in the series, Vex’s story according to her web site, this will not be an issue.

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Conferences – RT 2016

As many romance readers and writers know, RT 2016 is currently taking place in Vegas. It’s early this year – it’s usually in May – and for the first time in five years, I am not at the conference. It’s disappointing to miss what has become a wonderful reunion of friends, a giant book and industry talk-fest, and an all around good time and I am quite sad to not be there. However, I am living vicariously through social media – and you can, too!

Some photos from past RT conventions.

On Twitter, follow #RT16 to see tweets and photos from many authors, bloggers, and readers. On Facebook, many authors and bloggers are posting photos and tidbits from the sessions so check to see if your favorite author is and be sure to check their page regularly this week.

I will post a follow up with links to blogs and other write ups on the conference once it is over. Several authors and bloggers do post-conference round ups on the sessions they attended and what they learned and I have often learned as much from those as from the sessions I was actually able to attend at past conferences.

This year, I will be attending Bouchercon in September instead of RT. Why? Well, I’ve never attended a mystery genre conference and I’d like to see what is different between that and a romance conference. Also, I only get enough time off work to go to one conference so I had to make the choice. Finally, while I’m sure Vegas is a great destination, it is incredibly difficult for me to get to so it just wasn’t an option.

Happy conference to all the RT attendees!

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