Took or Baggins? Part 1

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This morning, early, I got a text message from my daughter. She is married to a great guy named Alex and living and working in Kendall, Florida. Kendall is a suburb of Miami, closer to Homestead than Miami proper. Miami is home to my children; they grew up there.

Anyway, she texted me the following message: “Alex just called me a Took. He says I’m a Took and he’s a Baggins.”

The message brought a burst of laughter to my lips. I experienced a sweep of emotion that most of you would be hard-pressed to understand.

First, you’d have to know the frame of reference. What are Tooks and Bagginses? If you ever read The Hobbit  and remembered it, you’d get it.

Years ago, when I first read Tolkien, I also quickly identified myself as a Took.

Tooks love adventures. They take chances. They get restless and shun the accepted and conventional. Tooks make a difference! They are a pain in the ass. We all want to be Tooks, but mostly, we are Bagginses.

But why did her text bring me such pleasure? Because she is carrying on my ways. She is doing something I did and thinking like I did. She is carrying on tradition. She does this also when she listens to Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix, artists who were dead long before she was born.

Why is she suddenly reading Tolkien? Most of today’s generation are happy to watch the movies and take the plot as true to the books.  However, my children are not your average stock. I did a good job raising them. They seldom shrink from a challenge.

A few days ago, in a telephone conversation about my writing, I said to her that most young people today cannot read the books I grew up reading. They have lost the language. To them, reading Tolkien is like me reading Chaucer or Shakespeare in the original text.

I told her that as indie authors, we are encouraged to write at no higher than a seventh-grade level because that is what the average reader is comfortable with. Classic works that have been the reading bread and butter of generations, are now considered too wordy and “purple” because they contain adjectives, adverbs, and complex sentences.

One of the biggest challenges I face in my editing is cutting down my sentences into palatable pieces that modern readers can digest. Sometimes I feel that my work looks more like a shopping list strung together than a creative endeavor.

Back to my daughter- it seems that she took my words as a challenge. She immediately picked up a copy of The Hobbit, and she loved it. Of course, an immediate discussion followed on the vast differences between the movies and the book.

She started the LOTR  series this morning. I told her that the series is quite different in tone, themes, and reading difficulty. Unlike The Hobbit,  the books that followed were not written for children. Just the foreword can be daunting. I offered to read along with her so that we could discuss as we go along.

That should be fun. For me, anyway. I will post once in a while about our progress.

2nd Novel from Top 100 Free in Kindle

I again chose my next book from the “Best Sellers in Kindle eBooks- Top 100 Free.”

The title of the book is The First Time I Said Goodbye by Claire Allan. It was at number #2 on July 19th. It has 147 reviews and with a 4.3 stars average. It’s not the usual type of story I normally read. It starts out with a funeral. A funeral at the start of any book is depressing, to say the least, unless you’re looking at the start of a Marvel’s Avengers story.

Chapter 2

It caught my attention, and I’m definitely invested in it! The main characters, mother and daughter, are headed for a trip to Ireland. I love Ireland. (A good comeback from the funeral.) The trip is the mother’s way of getting on with life after the death of her husband. Annabel, the daughter, appears to be caught up in a relationship she seems to be ambivalent about, but the story is really about her mother and the love of her life, the one that got away.

The book is well-written. The About Author states that Claire Allan is a reporter and columnist, so her writing should be good and it is. It definitely gives a sense of place, especially after they get to Ireland, and it gives hints of a mystery regarding the mother’s reason for the trip. Yes, I am hooked. I will read more!

Now, wait a minute! Where has the book gone? It’s no longer in the Top Free list. I do a search for the title, and see that it’s back on regular price. That brings up the point that the books on the Top Free are not necessarily there by popular demand. One good promo on ENT or BookBub or Amazon’s Marketing Ads can put a book at the top of the list, usually for a day or two.

This does not mean that the book is regularly popular. It means that thousands of readers are downloading anything they can get for free from the promo sites. As soon as the promo is over, the book drops off the list.

The Top 100 Free list changes constantly. The book that is #2 today, can be #40 tomorrow or disappear entirely, as this one did. The Top 100 Paid list is far more stable, and there are many $0.99 through $4.99 offerings. However, you’re more likely to discover something new  and unexpected in the free list.

Now, to keep reading.

Final report: Oh, my God! I’m crying! Not a sad-ending cry but a happy-ending cry. This book is definitely worth reading, and this words are coming from a woman who does not do sappy romantic well. In my opinion, and once again- I must emphasize that my opinion may not be anything like yours, this book is definitely worth reading.

Normally, I like my reads spiked with the occasional sex scene. This book has not one of those!

I like my books to be fast-paced, full of action reads. This has none of those things.

I like my books full of vampires, tortured heroes, and sexy rogues. There are none of those hunks in this book.

This novel is a sweet, gentle, nostalgic, bittersweet tale that switches back and forth between the years 1959-1960 and 2010. Yes, the two characters whose story we’re told in flashbacks are in their seventies! However, the story grabbed me and didn’t let me go. I read it in two seatings. And I finished reading with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. If I ever meet the author, I will punch her in the nose for making me cry.

The First Time I Said Goodbye is well-written, definitely above 7th-grade reading level. It gives a good sense of time and place. The characters are interesting and they speak in intelligent dialogue. Finally, I could not let go until I knew what happened! By the way, it’s based on a true story according to the author. I loved it!

What to Read?

How do we choose what to read?

It depends on the reader and the reason he or she reads. In this post, I will limit my scope to those of us who read for pleasure, specifically fiction.

As an author, I put great stock by word-of-mouth publicity. I remember vividly how a few years back, my students kept telling me about a series of books they loved and how I needed to try them. I did. That’s how I discovered the Twilight series. I also found out that YA books can be for adults too!

Another way I choose books to read is by how often I see them on display and how attracted I am by their covers. Harry Potter got me that way. After months of seeing stacks of it on display and hearing the hype on TV, I decided to give it a try. It worked for me.

A lot has changed since the early days of Twilight and Harry Potter. How I shop for books has changed dramatically. With the closing of most major bookstores, my book shopping has become primarily online shopping. Amazon has become my primary source for books.

I still go on my semi-annual pilgrimage to Barnes & Noble each time I fly into Miami to visit my family, but Amazon is at my fingertips no matter where in the world I am and UPS delivers.

In shopping at Amazon, there are problems. There are over one million titles available, but only the ones the Amazon logarithms consider worthy are up front. You might not have a problem with that. You probably think that any book worth reading will be among the top sellers and vice versa.

I usually head for the top titles in the categories I like. There will be a top-sellers list in each cat. I will click on the ones that catch my eye, and I’ll read the blurb. I’ll gloss over the reviews, paying attention to the average for all. If a book attracts my attention, I always download the sample. It’s free and in the two or three chapters involved, I can always decide if I want to read more.

Do I rely on book promos that come to my mailbox from sites such as BookBub, ENT, Read Cheaply, and such? Not recently. I get overwhelmed by the promo sites. They send constant lists of FREE and discounted books. Often, these books seem to be carbon copies of the same: bear shifter romances interspersed with the billionaire’s baby romance, and the ever-present YA fantasy or the end-of-the-world newest.

Most of the sites have little appreciation for cross-genre titles. The ones that claim to be more exclusive, base their exclusivity on the number of reviews a book has and its selling rank on Amazon or the name of the author. Which brings me to the question: Is a book worth reading because it’s visible on Amazon?

The obvious answer to that is that “worth reading” is a concept totally determined by the individual reader. I will qualify my criteria for a book I consider worth reading.

First, it must be grammatically acceptable. It need not be perfect, as many reviewers expect a book to be. J.R. Ward’s books are not perfect, but millions of fans, including me, love them. I can deal with missing commas but not with overwhelmingly bad grammar.

It must have a storyline that grabs me. It can’t be a rehash of the same old theme. If you’re writing YA, and you’re doing fantasy, it must be somehow different and original. The kids with super powers or the quest for the stone have been done to death.

It must have more than just speed, action, and short sentences. There must be good dialogue, compelling characters, and a sense of place and time.

It must hold my attention! That is the most important mark of a book I find worth reading. It pulls me in and makes me want to live in it. Last evening I sat at my favorite restaurant, all alone, twirling Fetuccini Alfredo with one hand while holding Tara Janzen’s Loose Ends with the other.  I’ve read both her Crazy series and her Loose series many times, and they never fail to grab me. I’d rather stop eating before I stop reading.

Now, back to the original idea in my lengthy speech. Is a book worth reading because it makes Amazon’s best-sellers list?  The only way I could determine that is by reading those books. This would be beyond my scope because I can’t afford to buy them all. However, I can try the same experiment on the Top FREE Kindle downloads.

Free books are suspect because they are free. If an author is eager to give away a book for free, then it must not be a very good book. If it were good, it would be selling like hotcakes and have a placement in the paid best sellers. Doesn’t that make sense?

This is faulty logic. Many authors today are giving away first books in a series as a way of hooking readers into the series. That being said, some books are being driven to the top of the charts through “Click Farm” scams, as David Gaughran recently reported in his post Scammers Break the Kindle Store. This is true for PAID as well as FREE books, but it’s not a common practice.

I intend to pick out books from Amazon’s Top Free rankings and let you know if, IN MY OPINION, they’re worth reading. Remember: my opinion! Everyone has one, and mine is no more important than yours. Be warned, I’ll not trudge through a book that doesn’t grab me early on!

Book for July 18thLove on a Spring Morning. This book is #2 on today’s Top 100 Free at Amazon. It’s part of a series, but not the first. The author is tagged as a “New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.” The series is described as a “small town military romance.” This means that the setting is a small town, and the main character (male) is a soldier or prior soldier. This is in the major contemporary romance genre.

Here is the link to the book

I also included the screenshot below. Interestingly, both #1 and #2 are non-fiction books. Love on a Spring Morning has 157 Reviews with an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars. I expect this book to be good!

This is my opinion: for whatever it’s worth.

Just finished Chapter 1. I had a really hard time staying with it. Main character Ryan Howard is having difficulties dealing with being a single parent after the death of his wife. The names of all the different children, the depressing topic, and the slow going are throwing me off. This read will be a good fit for readers who love extended pain. I don’t. I love suspenseful starts and beginnings that just grab me. Still, it does not mean the book is not worth reading.

Just finished chapter 2. This one introduces the female main character, Holly. She’s as tired and depressed as the male one, and she’s a movie star looking for something not Hollywood. I’m in pain, but it’s probably my fault.

Just finished chapter 3. Ryan visits his family and has a long talk with his brother. We find out that Ryan’s marriage was not happy. His wife was addicted to pot, and she was killed. He hasn’t had sex in a long time, and he’s not interested enough to make an effort.

All right. I’m drowning here. Lack-luster writing, slow pace, uninteresting characters, and after three chapters, not a really clear sense of place. Too much minutiae and tired, unattractive personalities. We can find that in everyday life. Why look for it in books? I have to wonder how one makes it through the next chapter.

Chapter 4. Ryan sees Holly (the actress) in a sports bra and tiny shorts. His reaction? This is a direct quote: “And her breasts. Holy shit, he could see her breasts, and they were like an oasis in the desert.”  (He could see her breasts through the sports bra, of course.)

No more for me. The first four chapters were a struggle to read. It failed the biggest test: it failed to grab me and keep my attention. I am a fan of Debbie Macomber, whose small-town romances have never lost me.  Until the next book, guys!

Reminder: All my own novels, including the latest release, Thicker Than Blood, are on Kindle Unlimited. If you have a KU membership, you can read them for FREE!

If you’ve read Vampire, Not Monsterwould you kindly log into Amazon and leave a review? I’d truly appreciate your effort. If you’ve not read it, you might give it a go! It’s a free download and only about a 45-minute read.

Scammers Break The Kindle Store

This is sad. As an author who has been trying for a long time to make her place in the Amazon ratings with hard work and perseverance, and failing, I find this problem to be demoralizing. It is sad how Amazon rushes to take away reviews from us, but the really important issues, they ignore.

David Gaughran

On Friday, a book jumped to the #1 spot on Amazon, out of nowhere; it quickly became obvious that the author had used a clickfarm to gatecrash the charts.

The Kindle Store is officially broken.

This is not the first time this has happened and Amazon’s continued inaction is increasingly baffling. Last Sunday, a clickfarmed title also hit #1 in the Kindle Store. And Amazon took no action.

Over the last six weeks, one particularly brazen author has put four separate titles in the Top 10, and Amazon did nothing whatsoever. There are many such examples.

I wrote at the start of June about how scammers were taking over Amazon’s free charts. That post led to a phone conversation with KDP’s Executive Customer Relations.

Repeated assurances were given that the entire leadership team at Amazon was taking the scammer problem very seriously indeed. But it was also stressed that the…

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