And I’m hosting Write-ins at my coworking space to help support local writers. See the blog post about it on the coworking website here: http://blog.locusworkspace.cz/2018/10/making-dreams-reality-with-nanowrimo.html. If you’re in Prague, please attend!
Are you participating in NaNoWriMo?
What’s your project this year? I’m working on a kind of Agatha Christie homage. It's pretty fun!
Now, go write 1,667 words and reward yourself for a day well done.
Happy Halloween! In honor of the spooky season, here are three haunting books I’ve read recently. (Figuratively haunting; none of the plots are truly paranormal.)
The Witch Elm (UK title: The Wych Elm) by Tana French
You knew this book was going to head the list, didn’t you? I’ve been jabbering on to anyone who will listen about French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels (including at last weekend’s Halloween party, where someone confessed he wasn’t on board, WHAT? It’s OK, we can still be friends…).
The Witch Elm is her first standalone novel, and when I started it, I’ll admit to being worried. In the first half, it seemed like it stepped out of the crime genre a bit too far for my expectations. But soon, the plot got going and the immersion in the main character’s psyche hooked me.
The book centers on the question of what it means to be “lucky.” And what happens when you aren’t lucky (we could also put here, “privileged”) any longer. I don’t want to spoil anything (I’d say you shouldn’t even read the Goodreads interview with the author) so I’ll leave this really vague. Just go read the book.
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Hawkins wrote the blockbuster novel The Girl on the Train, later made into a movie with Emily Blunt. That book was a domestic suspense novel with an unreliable, alcoholic narrator. When Into the Water came out, I read a bunch of lukewarm-to-bad reviews that said it didn’t measure up to to the first, so I didn’t buy the book right away.
But, as usual, I shouldn’t rely on reviews other than for content expectations. I really liked it!
Into the Water goes deep into local myth about a pool in the UK where, historically, women were once tried by drowning—if she floats, she’s not a witch—and where, more recently, local suicides have drowned themselves. A woman who had once lived in the nearby village has to come back to take guardianship of her niece after her long-estranged sister dies in the pool. It has a past-present narrative that I loved, with lots of different point of view chapters from minor characters, and, while I guessed the ending a bit earlier than I usually like, it was still worth the read all the way through.
The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
And since I just said I don’t think that reviews have that much to do with whether I’ll like a book or not, here’s a book I didn’t love but you might! Goodreads has given it 4 stars, with a lot of the reviews stating that they preferred it to Sager’s first book, and I heard it’s been picked up for a TV series.
In my Goodreads Challenge blog post earlier this year, I wrote about The Final Girls, Sager’s first novel, which I gobbled up in a day or so. I liked that one so much I spent a whole Audible credit on the new book when it came out. Well, maybe I should have read it on my Kindle instead. Maybe it was the audiobook format that didn’t work for me. It had all the usual things I generally like—a creepy situation (teenage girls go missing from summer camp), another past-present narrative, a seemingly unreliable narrator—but somehow I was just finishing it because, goddamnit, I only get one “free” Audible credit a month (yes, I realize I actually pay for those credits). I’d say, give this one a try if you’re in the mood for something creepy. But go get French’s and Hawkins’ books first.
What have you been reading? Anything deliciously creepy?
For the past few years, I’ve made a habit of going over my goals every few months. Usually, I focus on financial, creative and professional goals but I realized this year that, since I’m doing the Goodreads Reading Challenge (with a goal of a not-so-exciting 52 books this year) it might be fun to look back on the books I’ve read so far in 2018.
Here they are:
Books I've Finished
The Less You Know the Sounder You Sleep by Juliet Butler. Really amazing true story about conjoined twins in Russia. (I should add that Juliet is a friend but know I would recommend the book anyway!)
Final Girls by Riley Sager. Shoutout to my critique partner Jeremy for recommending this book about a woman who survived a mass killing. I loved it and am looking forward to the author’s next book, which came out recently. I’ll read that soon!
What Doesn’t Kill Her by Carla Norton. I listened to this cat-and-mouse audiobook about the survivor of a childhood kidnapping and her captor who escapes from prison and was super excited to find out that it’s actually a sequel and so I have more to explore from this author.
The Healthy Writer by Joanna Penn & Dr. Euan Lawson. (nonfiction) Just what I needed to kick myself into a healthier 2018!
The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. This book set me off on a spur of reading books that have unlikable but fascinating characters. That’s my thing this year, and Rowling does it well!
The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets by Sophie Hannah. A book of short stories that stayed with me long after I finished the last one.
The Dante Connection by Estelle Ryan. I really like Ryan’s series of books about an autistic art insurance fraud investigator, and this one was an excellent example.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Yeah, I’m late to the party on this one. Thanks to my critique partner Robin for giving me a copy!
Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Told partially through letters that a young black man in Atlanta is writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. as a school project. I’m glad I picked this one up.
The Punishment She Deserves by Elizabeth George. Another Lynley novel! I swoon. I gave my husband two weeks’ notice that this book was coming out and not to expect me to do anything that day. If you haven’t already, I would recommend reading the others in the series first, though.
Blindsighted and Criminal by Karin Slaughter. I think I read these two stories out of order but enjoyed them anyway. Looking forward to picking up more of Slaughter’s work when I thin out my ‘currently reading’ pile.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. I’ve read two books with this title this year! I picked this one up once I recognized I was on a fascinating-but-unlikeable character binge. It did not disappoint.
Last to Die by Arlene Hunt. The pacing in this serial killer book was fantastic! I just kept reading.
The Girl Before by Rena Olsen. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it really gripped me. About a woman who was helping groom little girls for human trafficking—but doesn’t realize it.
It was OK
Maids of Misfortune by M. Louisa Locke. This was a fun historical mystery. I liked the characters and may pick up the sequel next year.
Driven by Andrea Badenoch. Another in my line of fascinating but unlikable characters, this time a streetwise girl in London.
Dark Places by Jon Evans. Fascinating premise (and more fascinating but unlikeable characters) this is a thriller with a travel aspect. Loved that! But I wasn’t enthralled by the writing.
The Good Neighbor by AJ Banner. I listened to this as an audiobook while training for the Camino de Santiago. It was a good distraction from foot pain. I wished the ending was darker, but that might just be me.
The Outsider by Stephen King. So I love Stephen King and really enjoyed the experience of this book (I also listened to it) but I think that I can only put it in the “OK” category because I think his other books are stronger.
Didn’t really love
Laundry Man by Jake Needham. I liked this book more when I finished it than I do now. I like Needham’s writing a lot and also his setting and characters. But it didn’t stay with me.
At Risk by Patricia Cornwell. It was fun to read but didn’t stay with me.
Pretty Girls Dancing by Kylie Brant. A fun-to-read serial killer book but didn’t stay with me.
Man Overboard by JA Jance. I really like her characters and premise but the techno-thriller aspect wasn’t believable to me.
Caraval by Stephanie Garber. This fantasy book got huge reception on Twitter and book blogs, and I heard there’s a movie coming out too so I thought I’d try it. I wanted to love it but didn’t—characters were too thin, and I wanted more of the crazy magic world than romance.
Vigilante Dead by DV Berkom. More fascinating but unlikable characters! I wanted to like this more than I did—not sure why—perhaps there was too much backstory, and I haven’t read the others with this character? I would give another book by this author a chance, though.
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. A friend ran up to me at a party and pressed this book into my hands, shouting about how much she liked it. I was really disappointed that I didn’t very much. It should have been three books all focusing on different aspects of the eponymous superspy. Instead, we just get a whirlwind that felt disjointed and left me wanting more detail.
Other Books and Currently Reading
Not counted in the books I’ve finished are the manuscripts I’ve critiqued for writing pals. This is known as “beta reading” (like beta testing for software). So far this year, for my writing pals I’ve read and given feedback on three fantasy novels, a thriller with speculative elements, a suspense novel and a paranormal romance. I love them! These are usually done on a swap basis, so when I finish my next project I’ll send it out to these authors and see what advice they have for me.
Books in progress
So here’s something that happens to me—does it happen to you too?—I start a book, am enjoying it, and don’t want it to end. So I switch in the middle. This has happened to me twice now with books by the lovely Jennifer Alderson (an American based in the Netherlands, she writes mysteries with a travel bent, and you should definitely follow her on Twitter to learn about other international reads!). Also in this category are The Hungry Tides by Amitav Ghosh (which I’ve been reading a hard copy of in the bathtub) and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (reading in bed).
I’m also currently reading on one device or another (or in hard copy): 11/22/63 by Stephen King, I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells, Losing Venice by Scott Stavrou, One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peters, Strange Stones by Peter Hessler, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
I’m also working through some nonfiction books, including The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson, Wired for Story and Plot Genius by Lisa Cron, So You’ve been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson and The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass.
So, what’s next? I tend to pick up books compulsively and read whatever seems to catch me at the moment. But there are two books I know I’ll read soon. A group of writers in the Sisters in Crime organization will be discussing K.J. Howe’s The Freedom Broker. I met the author at ThrillerFest last year (she’s the Executive Director) and have been meaning to read it, and I’m very excited to discuss it with other writers. And later this year, the only book I know I’m going to shoot through is Tana French’s upcoming standalone The Witch Elm, which should land on my Kindle in October. Can’t wait!
What are you reading?
I've just posted my digital July rewards for Patreon supporters and my $10 backers have a (couple of, actually!) postcards in the mail to them from my trip to Spain.
Here are the covers for the $5 reward (a short story about a backpacker in Thailand who gets involved in a situation that looks like a kidnapping) and the $3 reward (a travel tale about being hungry in an unfamiliar city).
If you pledge today, you'll get these rewards plus previous months' stories as well! Take a look at all the reward tiers here: www.patreon.com/BethGreen
Almost ten years ago, while living in China, I had laser eye surgery
My eyes have always been bad—and one was worse than the other, causing depth perception problems (yes, that’s what I’m blaming my poor performance in high school PE class on. Okay?). I’d worn contact lenses since I was 15, but for a few years, my eyes had become increasingly sensitive and irritated by the lenses. I tried switching to glasses full time, but suffered vision headaches and just generally hated having something resting on my nose every day.
After the procedure, the doctor advised me to reduce the strain on my eyes, and particularly the time that I spent looking at computer screens, for about six months.
At first I thought I’d be fine—I planned to listen to music and sleep a lot. But no, it was a lot harder to cut back on reading than I had thought. We had a vacation coming up, to Xinjiang Province in far western China. What was I going to do on our long bus and train rides?
The answer: audiobooks.
Now, some of my readers here might know that I was homeschooled as a kid, and whether that's the reason or not, it has never been quite comfortable for me to take information in only by listening. I don't particularly enjoy listening to the radio, other than for music, and when I took lectures in college, I took as many notes as I could so that I could read them back later.
Knowing this, my husband picked out the first book for me to listen to. We thought it would be easier for me to enjoy if it was a book I’d actually read before on paper. He chose George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. He’s an OG GOT fan, and I had recently bought him paperbacks of the full series (well, whatever was published up to that point; we didn’t even know there’d be a TV series then!) at an English-language bookshop in Macao. So one of my first experiences with audiobooks was listening to the narrator describe Westeros as we sat on a train going across the yellow Taklamakan desert near Kashgar.
On later trips that year, I listened to Nora Roberts, Janet Evanovich and other authors I enjoy read aloud. Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys and his own reading of The Graveyard Book stayed with me particularly. I listened on a ferry down the Yangtze, *tried* to listening while going to the gym (but the music was too loud and to be honest, going to the gym is another thing I’ve never been able to get into…), and stayed up late at night in cheap hostels in India, mosquito netting inches from my face, riveted by one plot point or another.
But once the doctor approved me for reading screens again, I let my interest in audiobooks lapse. Until this year.
While training for our hike in Spain next week, I’ve started listening to audiobooks again, as well as podcasts, to make the miles pass under my boots faster. Plus, since I’ll have to carry everything I need for the hike in a 26L backpack, I don’t really have room to take a paperback (one paperback is not enough for a week trip anyway). My Kindle’s small and light, but I would worry about damage to it if it rains. These past two months, I’ve learned I’m still a newbie listener, and often have to back up to re-hear what happened if my focus is pulled elsewhere. I would never be able to listen to audiobooks and drive a car—that seems like a superpower!
Lately, I’ve been listening to thrillers. I’ve finished Rena Olsen’s The Girl Before and AJ Banner’s The Good Neighbor, and now I’m working on Carla Norton’s What Didn’t Kill Her—which I’m really enjoying.
My next Audible credit this month will go to Steven King’s latest release, Outsider. I hope the tension will keep me on the path while walking—but I’ll probably switch back to podcasts after dark!
Do you listen to audiobooks? Which ones would you recommend?
I've just posted my June rewards for Patreon supporters!
Here are the covers for the $5 reward (a short story in my series about an all-female assassin agency) and the $3 reward (a travel tale about the time I hiked Mt. Emei, one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains).
If you pledge today, you'll get these rewards plus previous months' stories as well! Note that I also offer critique sessions for the higher reward tiers--perfect if you'd like a writing buddy, editor, and cheerleader! www.patreon.com/BethGreen
My May rewards for Patreon supporters post today! Above are the covers of the $5 reward (a short, short story about a fast-moving river and a now-or-never chance) and the $3 reward (a travel story set in Prague during my English-teaching days). Pledge today and get access to these rewards and last month's too: https://www.patreon.com/BethGreen.
What is Patreon? It's a microfunding site for creators. You get cool things to read (and fun cat memes) and I can spend a bit more time on projects I'm passionate about! Learn more here or check out the intro video on my Patreon profile page.
This past week, my friend Jasmine Silvera released the second book in her Grace Bloods series, Dancer’s Flame. I've known Jasmine since she was in Prague writing her first book (and, um, actually I’m officially the first book’s godmother and so kind of invested in this…) and I'm thrilled to see her universe, set in a dystopian future Prague, come to life in a second volume. The story centers on Isela Vogel, a dancer who can call on gods through the power of dance and her relationship with the city’s most powerful necromancer, Azrael.
Jasmine did a great job showcasing the city, but often when I pick up a book about a place I know well, I worry if my own experiences are going to take away from my enjoyment of the setting. For example, my own familiarity with Prague makes me hypervigilant to the details, but it’s really not fair to expect an author to always put every cobblestone in the right place. For most books, it's more about catching the spirit of a location and emphasizing only the details that evoke the sensation of being there.