Short Story Saturdays

With two little ones and a full-time job, my reading often consists of short stories, simply because I want something that I might actually be able to finish before jumping up to do another task.

I’ve decided to work this into the spirit of my blog by introducing a new feature, “Short Story Saturdays,” where I’ll commit to featuring either a Kindle single or short story collection each week.

To start, I’d like to highlight a short book of essays, “A Trip to the Hardware Store and Other Calamities” by Barbara Venkataraman. I picked this book up as a freebie back in March, but it’s available now for 99 cents.

This collection of vignettes seems to be pulled directly from Venkataraman’s life, but they are told with such smooth prose that they feel like short stories. Or chatting with a friend, dishing out some favorite tales of what has happened in life.

I completed the book in around an hour of reading, but all in all, I don’t think 99 cents is bad for an hour’s entertainment.

According to Venkataraman’s author page on Amazon, she has a number of similar volumes I’d definitely consider them for future reading, and would be sure to snatch them up if they ever cross the freebie lists.



Susan Spira shares happiness with all ages

A few weeks ago, a short book of observations and life-lessons caught my eye amongst the Kindle freebie lists. The cover art was beautiful, and I thought it would be a fun “purchase.”

I vaguely recognized the author’s name, Susan Spira. I recall thinking, at the time, “She must be one of those big-name motivational speakers or something.” I thought no more of it until one morning when I was looking for something to provide a little quick reading that I didn’t need to make a commitment to.

The morning I first opened “One Liners for Life” was a really hectic morning for me (hence, the reason why I was looking for a few words of distraction that I could look to without the commitment of concentrating on chapters or even paragraphs of text. Many of these simple phrases spoke to my heart, brought a smile to my face, and even helped to put the burdens of my day into perspective. In her introduction, Spira expresses her hope that this will be a book that readers will return to time and again when they have need of these little gems of advice – and I honestly believe that for me, it will be.

Without intending to read the entire thing in one sitting or even realizing I had, I was finished. Not to say that the book is overly short – I believe it’s a very nice length for the type of book that it is. Rather, I found myself immersed in Spira’s spirit of happiness and lost track of the time.

At the end of the book, Amazon’s suggestions helped me realize why the name was familiar – she has also written some of my very favorite children’s books on the Kindle, the “Tinky” books. The two books currently in our collection, “Tinky’s Magic Cookies” and “Tinky and the Dragon” are beautifully written and illustrated tales that promote kindness, helpfulness and sharing. Picture books about dogs are always favorites in our household and the “Tinky” tales rise to the top. These are also some of the picture books best formatted for the Kindle of those I have found.

I’ve gotten all three of these selections free for Kindle at different times. “Tinky and the Dragon” is currently free at the time of this blog post. I certainly appreciate Spira for freely sharing her generous happiness with readers. I look forward to reading more of her works in the future, and may even purchase some of her other books for myself or children.

More about Spira can be found on her Amazon page here or on her website.

Memorial Day Reading

Another book that I have begun reading to lighten my reading as I work on my current, longer reading project is “Combat and Other Shenanigans” by Piers Platt, which I picked up for free (apparently a real steal, as it’s now $5.99). I cracked it open in the wee hours this morning, then began to contemplate the other military titles currently on my Kindle. Many of them were downloaded with the thought that I wasn’t really super-interested, but they might make diverse topics just for this blog. And being as it was Memorial Day, I thought there was no more appropriate time to dive right in.

“Combat and Other Shenanigans” reminds me a lot of the movie “Jarhead,” which I really enjoyed, but it’s not these younger servicemen I think of on Memorial Day. (I know that like their older counterparts, there are still brave men and women in combat right now, and I appreciate that. Perhaps I just don’t want to think of it – people my age and even much younger out there on the front lines, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.)

So I flipped through my Kindle and selected a few more titles from my list to check out today.

First on my reading list was “Lest We Forget,” a short story by John W. Cassell. In this fictional story, written in the style of a military memoir, the protagonist worries that his own daughter will be the one to pay the price for his own infractions. It’s a moving and well-told story, and to me was quite fitting for a Memorial Day read. While it’s no longer free, I think the story is well worth $1. It’s also available through the Kindle Lending Library, though I generally chose longer fare for my borrowing. I might be interested in checking out some of Cassell’s others works someday.

I then moved on to a true memoir, “To War In Style by Mark Berent. I was not as captivated by this title. This short simply felt like it was only written with the intention of a freebie to encourage the reader to buy the author’s other books. There was no artful storytelling, just a few interesting scenarios thrown together and described in brief. This short is still available for free, so military buffs might want to give it a read – Berent’s tales might be of more interest to them than to me.

But my best read of the day was a full length memoir, “Private Dreams” by Ronald Mayle S.R. Although memoir, the narrative draws the reader in as well as fiction. You are transported to a time and place with the author as a younger man, meeting those going through basic training with him, experiencing the racial conflicts of the American ’60s as well as the attitudes about Vietnam and then being yanked unexpectedly into conflict in the Dominican Republic. The startling ending of the book, rife with conflict and speaking of the ways our military members put their lives on the line even outside the traditional battlefield, had me in tears and was a perfect fit for a Memorial Day read.

I was sadly disappointed, in researching for this article, that the only other offering Mayle currently has on the Kindle is a co-written work, and I hope that I’ll have opportunity to spend another day immersed in his easy storytelling in the future.

This book is currently $.99 and a great bargain at that price for any fan of military writing or historians interested in the Vietnam period.



I’m currently struggling through a longer, rougher selection in my reading list (which I do intend to finish, for reasons I’ll reveal in the review, so I won’t mention the title here). So I’ve been lightening the mood with some other, lighter reading in between.

One gem I have found in the interim is “Twirty-Something: A Young Woman’s Guide to Giant Underwear” by Ingrid Rienke.

I readily identified with every one of these essays, and loved the humor and wit with which they were presented. This is exactly the advice I would give my younger self if I could go back in time, but to which I probably would not have listened.

From reading, it’s hard to tell if the target audience truly is younger women, or whether it really is us “twirty-something” women who have already been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirts. Because I know, as a younger woman, I never would have thought there would be a day when these words rang so true for me. But it’s a great book for those of us who’ve already had the experience – reading Reinke’s book is like having a best friend there to commisserate on all the ways our lives have changed since our younger days. And at the very least, it’s amusing to contemplate the thought of someone explaining these changes in great detail to a younger generation, or to wonder how our lives might have been changed had someone explained all of this to us before we had to learn it on our own.

I’d recommend this short collection of essays to women of all ages – to the younger women who might still benefit from the wisdom of slightly older women, to those of us “Twirty-Somethings” who can readily identify with the very real plights of life expressed in these pages, and even to women who have moved past that point in their lives, who might be able to wistfully look back to the days when these were their struggles. And who knows, some of those older women might even be encouraged to share their wit and wisdom with those of us “Twirty-Somethings,” and perhaps we have grown up enough now to listen. Otherwise, perhaps we’ll have to wait for Reinke to share with us the issues of menopause, graying hair, hair dye, and the numerous other issues we’ll face in the future, hopefully still with the same delightful humor.

After the laughs and groans of “Twirty-Something,” I was excited to find that Reinke also has a debut novel, “Dead End Job,” part of her Louisa Hallstrom series, also currently available free for the Kindle. I look forward to reading it soon.


Book Tag Thursday

Inside & Out
I – Inside flap/Back of the book summaries: Too much info? Or not enough? (Discuss)
I’ve found my share of both. I’m much more likely to read books that share too much info than those that have not enough. Unlike Faith, I’ve had too many disappointments with reading the first few pages, or else I begin to feel a commitment to the book once I’ve already opened it that far. These summaries are one of the things I miss most now that I do most of my reading on Kindle.
N – New book: What form do you want it in? Be honest: Audiobook, eBook, Paperback, or Hardcover?
My preferred format will always be paperback. I get to enjoy the smell of the paper and they’re just so much easier to hold when lounging and reading. Most of my new books are currently in Kindle format, for the convenience, and the Kindle has changed the way I read, so I have to give props to the eBook, also.
S – Scribble while you read? Do you like to write in your books, taking notes, making comments, or do you keep your books clean clean clean? (Tell us why.)
For the most part, I keep the books I read for pleasure clean. I’m likely to scribble, draw pictures, take notes, highlight, etc. in an informative book, though.
I – In your best voice, read for us your favorite 1st sentence from a book.
“Book reading is a solitary and sedentary pursuit, and those who do are cautioned that a book should be used as an integral part of a well-rounded life, including a daily regimen of rigorous physical exercisem rewarding personal relationships, and a sensible low-fat diet. A book should not be used as a substitute or an excuse.” – from Garrison Keillor’s “The Book of Guys”
(Because sometimes I need this advice.)
D – Does it matter to you whether the author is male or female when you’re deciding on a book? What if you’re unsure of the author’s gender?
Mot particular, though oddly enough it sometimes bothers me when I’m unsure. I tend to prefer male writers overall, but it doesn’t influence me in choosing books by new-to-me authors.
E – Ever read ahead? Or have you ever read the last page way before you got there? (Do confess thy sins, foul demon!)
Yes, and I’ve almost always regretted it. The times when I did were because I dreaded a particular ending, and so by skipping ahead I’ve always saved myself that pure emotion by knowing a crisis was averted or have ruined my enjoyment of the rest of the book knowing that the dreaded happens. I’m trying to recall the long-awaited title I was once reading where I skipped ahead, swearing that I was going to put the book down if there was not an unforseen twist. Luckily for me, there was – but how much better would the book have been if I’d had the patience to venture forward through it with the full emotional baggage? The book that immediately comes to mind is “Son of a Witch” by Gregory Maguire, sequel to “Wicked.” I can’t recall whether it was a conscious decision or by accident that my eyes skimmed the final line of the book. (As it was my third attempt at reading and the furthest I’d made it through the book, I suspect it was intentional.) I recall the tears of sheer emotion at that moment, when that one very simple last line (I believe it is three words, as I recall.) said everything. If you’ve read the book you’ll know exactly what I mean, and I won’t share the line here in case you ever might want to read the book, if you haven’t. And I read the last third of the book in a single sitting after reading that one line.
O – Organized bookshelves or Outrageous bookshelves?
Outrageous bookshelves, and book boxes, and book stacks, and well … just books.
U – Under oath: have you ever bought a book based on the cover alone?
Definitely yes. Especially bargain books.
T – Take it outside to read, or stay in?
There’s nothing I love like lounging outside with a great paperback. I generally stay in with my Kindle.

Faith Simone


I found this cute little game on Life of a Female Bibliophile and decided to participate in a book tag.  If you want to play along, just answer the questions in the comments below or post them on your blog. Don’t forget to link back to me!

 Inside & Out

I – Inside flap/Back of the book summaries: Too much info? Or not enough? (Discuss)

Most of the time, it’s just enough. I’m going to read the first few pages anyway before I decide whether I’m going to read the whole book.

N – New book: What form do you want it in? Be honest: Audiobook, eBook, Paperback, or Hardcover?

I love the feel and smell of hardcover books.

S – Scribble while you read? Do you like to write in your books, taking notes, making comments, or do you keep your books clean clean clean? (Tell us why.)

Where do they…

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High-larious High-jinks

Through my Twitter base, I recently discovered another free reading experience by author David A. Roberts. Roberts is working on an interactive writing project, “Mile High.” This was also my first experience with getting a free book from Smashwords, rather than directly from Amazon, as I’m usually very selective about my downloads (those who follow me on Twitter may have seen a recent conversation with an author regarding free reading vs. piracy). I’m not equating Smashwords with piracy, but I had previously limited my experience directly to Amazon downloads as this was my first experience with legitimately free books. Free books are awesome, stolen books are not, by the way! #piracyisnotfree

But I digress. The topic of this blog is “Mile High,” by David A. Roberts. The only fitting review of this book is that I am addicted! The protagonist of the series, David Allen, is a high-end (pun intended) pot dealer in Colorado whose livelihood is impacted by the legalization of cannabis. In the first volume, you meet David and his closest friends and colleagues, learn a bit about his process, and meet the first of what are certain to be a series of antagonists – a PI hired by a larger supplier to contact David regarding his special variety of weed.

My only complaint so far is that this volume is far too short! In the interest, I’m certain, of following through with the social aspect and allowing readers to make suggestions on where the storyline should go, this first volume ends on a cliff-hanger with David eluding contact with the PI, at least for the moment, after an intense chase.

As a work in progress, the work is a tad rough, but not enough to truly detract from the storyline. Not to stereotype or anything, but any fan of stoner humor isn’t even likely to notice.

I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of stoner humor. And any general humor fan, or anyone who is interested in finding out what an interactive novel is about, who wouldn’t be offended by drug references and some light cursing.

As for me, I’ll be “highly” anticipating the next installment.

Embracing Challenges

Yesterday, Opinionated Man issued a challenge in his HarsH ReaLiTy blog for fellow bloggers to step outside their element. This gave me pause to consider really stepping up to challenges in a number of different ways.

As well as being an avid reader, in my younger days, I was also a prolific writer. I even spent around four years as a newspaper reporter, though nothing else I’ve written outside that scope has ever been published.

In the past few years, I’ve reconsidered a number of times returning to the pen and paper, just as I’ve returned to books and reading.

Today, my own writing aspirations are the topic of my blog, rather than my reviews of free books I’m reading. And perhaps, just perhaps, Opinionated Man has spurred even more of a challenge than a single blog post – maybe he has also encouraged me to follow my further writing goals.

The life changing event that first encouraged me to return to writing was when a close friend had a stroke. Doctors gave her husband very little hope for recovery, but I had full faith in my friend’s strength and she’s made almost a complete comeback. Through the experience, I learned a lot about how the brain works and how important speech and language are to our very day to day lives. And I contemplated a return to writing as a way to share what I have learned, in hopes that I might be able to help others who have dealt with issues that might seem insurmountable.

In my writing in the past, I’ve embraced a number of genres – from poetry to prose, from fiction to non-fiction. Reconsidering my potential as an author, I’ve also thought about a number of opportunities – children’s books seem to be a quick turn-around and with two young children in my household, a boy and a girl, I’d have a built-in sounding board for what stories work. I’ve also considered a few non-fiction topics, from personal experiences and carry-overs from my newswriting days. And since I was young I considered dabbling in a bit of young-adult or even adult fiction.

So instead of offering my opinions, today I’ll ask for opinions from my blog readers – What are you interested in seeing from a new author? More fiction or non-fiction? If an author embraces a variety of genres, should they use a unique pen name for each, or write under the same name so that their works are easily identifiable as the works of a single person?

I encourage comments on this topic, which I’m sure will influence not only what I write, but also what I read in my future free reading!