Into the World of Audible

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Me – not my books. Not yet, at any rate.

Bruce and I have recently discovered audio books and we are thrilled.

I can only rave! Prepare yourself. We’ve always loved radio and we’ve often listened to podcasts in the evenings. Mostly news or political commentary. Hearing great books read aloud is a change of genre rather than medium. At the same time, what a change! Bruce and I have often read the same book and then discussed it. We’ve never experienced the same book at the same time. Wow!

Audible cover of LIncoln in the Bardo

We first ventured out on audio with the free one-month subscription to Audible and downloaded Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. The write-up hooked me! Plus the 166 member cast that it took to bring this novel to the audio world. Listen to what Amazon says about Saunders’ work:

Winner, 2018 APA Audie Awards – Audiobook of the Year

Winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize

The long-awaited first novel from the author of Tenth of December: a moving and original father-son story featuring none other than Abraham Lincoln, as well as an unforgettable cast of supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented.

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved 11-year-old son, Willie, is gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state (called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo) a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Lincoln in the Bardo is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?

Bruce joined me for the first hour, then said I should go on without him. He found it strange. Good way to describe the experience. But the novel isn’t just strange for the way it draws heavily on historical accounts of Abraham Lincoln at the time of his son’s death, or for its bizarre long-dead characters, or the ghostly and often bawdy graveyard antics that made me laugh and shudder in turn. It’s also a challenging first-ever audio book experience. The medium is a world away from reading.

Let me explain. If I’m confused at the start of a novel, I reread the first few paragraphs. Reading allows such review. With audio, you are right in the thick of it from the first moment and the narration just goes on. You must accept the ambiguity until it all starts to gel. Either that or spend endless amounts of time rewinding.

I persevered with Lincoln in the Bardo, and what a fantastical, amazing journey.

Audible cover of Conclave

Next came Conclave by Robert Harris. I’m a huge fan of Robert Harris’ work and have read all his novels. I wanted to share Conclave with Bruce, but I only had it as an e-book. Bruce prefers a ‘real’ book experience.

Check out the Amazon write-up to see if you’d be interested:

What happens behind the closed doors of the Roman Catholic Conclave? The mysterious rituals surrounding the congregation of cardinal electors responsible for electing a new pope is brilliantly researched by Robert Harris, bringing an age-old tradition to life. Set against the swirling of religious theory comes an explosive political drama that will have you on the edge of your seat. The Pope is dead. Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, 118 cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election. They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals. Over the next 72 hours, one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.

We listened to this one together and loved the experience. The narration, which should really be called a performance, was superb. How one narrator could bring a unique voice to each character is an amazing feat.

Audible cover for Officer and a Spy

I stayed in Audible for another month so I could download another Robert Harris book. An Officer and a Spy. Historical fiction at its best and I know because I’ve read the e-book.

Amazon description:

They lied to protect their country. He told the truth to save it. A gripping historical thriller from the best-selling author of Fatherland.

January 1895: On a freezing morning in the heart of Paris, an army officer, Georges Picquart, witnesses a convicted spy, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of 20,000 spectators baying ‘Death to the Jew!’ The officer is rewarded with promotion: Picquart is made the French army’s youngest colonel and put in command of ‘the Statistical Section’ – the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down Dreyfus.

The spy, meanwhile, is given a punishment of medieval cruelty: Dreyfus is shipped off to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil’s Island – unable to speak to anyone, not even his guards, his case seems closed forever. But gradually Picquart comes to believe there is something rotten at the heart of the Statistical Section. When he discovers another German spy operating on French soil, his superiors are oddly reluctant to pursue it. Despite official warnings, Picquart persists, and soon the officer and the spy are in the same predicament….

Narrated by Picquart, An Officer and a Spy is a compelling recreation of a scandal that became the most famous miscarriage of justice in history. Compelling, too, are the echoes for our modern world: an intelligence agency gone rogue, justice corrupted in the name of national security, a newspaper witch hunt of a persecuted minority, and the age-old instinct of those in power to cover-up their crimes.

This one is in our line-up for later.

Reflecting on the cost of an Audible monthly subscription (14.95) and how that would only give us access to one free book per month and a 30% discount on any we would purchase (which, in Canada, are upwards of 28.00 each) we decided the whole endeavour, though enjoyable, was somewhat pricey.

I checked out what our local library had to offer. I downloaded the Libby app (which is amazing) and checked out our first audio book. Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs.

Audible cover of Fifteen Dogs

Amazon write-up:

WINNER OF THE 2015 GILLER PRIZE

WINNER OF THE 2015 ROGERS WRITERS’ TRUST FICTION PRIZE

FINALIST FOR THE 2015 TORONTO BOOK AWARDS

“I wonder,” said Hermes, “what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.”

“I’ll wager a year’s servitude,” answered Apollo, “that animals – any animal you like – would be even more unhappy than humans are if they were given human intelligence.”

And so it begins: a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old dog ways, and those who embrace the change. The gods watch from above as the dogs venture into their newly unfamiliar world, as they become divided among themselves, as each struggles with new thoughts and feelings. Wily Benjy moves from home to home, Prince becomes a poet, and Majnoun forges a relationship with a kind couple that stops even the Fates in their tracks.

André Alexis’ contemporary take on the apologue offers an utterly compelling and affecting look at the beauty and perils of human consciousness. By turns meditative and devastating, charming and strange, Fifteen Dogs shows you can teach an old genre new tricks.

This book is narrated by Alexis himself and after listening, I’m not sure anyone else but the author could have pulled it off. We spent a wildly hilarious and moving 6.5 hours over four nights loving this novel. I will never look or speak to a dog the same way again. While we listen, I usually knit on my various sock projects and one night, Bruce put together plumbing parts for a next day job. Listening lends itself to certain pursuits that television viewing doesn’t allow.

I am now listening to an Isabele Allende’s novel – Ripper.

Ripper cover

Amazon description:

Indiana Jackson is thirty-three years old and works in San Francisco at an alternative medicine clinic that attracts all sorts of characters, some of them skeptics, who fall for her candour and humility. Her teenage daughter, Amanda, likes noir literature and hopes to attend MIT, where she will be with Bradley, an old friend that she plans to marry, with or without his consent. In her free time, she plays Ripper, an online role-playing game that involves solving real-life mysteries and crimes using information collected by Amanda’s father, the Chief Inspector of the San Francisco police. Amanda plays the game via Skype with adolescents from all over the world and with her best friend, her grandfather Blake.

Each player in the game has a virtual personality: Amanda is the game master, and Blake is her henchman; the others are Sherlock Holmes, Colonel Paddington, Esmeralda and the psychic Abatha.

When Ripper’s latest murder mystery-the case of the misplaced bat-begins to touch their real-world lives, Amanda and her friends know they must find the murderer before he can strike again.

Ripper is a true thriller, with twists, surprises, well-placed clues and revelations leading to a climactic finale.

Bruce is passing on this one because he doesn’t like too much bloodshed. I think he would love Allende’s characters, though, and I may convince him to give it a try. He is waiting for the new Barbara Kingsolver novel, Unsheltered, to show up. We have a library order in for it and must wait our turn. Estimated time is 14 weeks!

Rest assured, now that we have discovered this new medium, we’ll be filling our waiting time with more easily available treats.

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Flash Sale–Free E-Book Offer

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One day only – Disappearing in Plain Sight – first book in the Crater Lake Series – Free all day, Sunday, Feb. 17th.

If you’ve been following my last few posts, you’ll know that the 5th book is in the works.

Excerpt from a recent fan email:

I have just finished reading your book, Disappearing in Plain Sight and I wanted to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for a novel that is believable, not smutty and kept me interested from beginning to end.

High praise, indeed. Get right over to the Amazon site of your choice and download a free copy Smile 

Amazon US site – Disappearing in Plain Sight

Amazon UK site – Disappearing in Plain Sight

Amazon Canada site – Disappearing in Plain Sight

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When Research Meets Pleasure–an ongoing relationship with Jack Reacher.

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Being the author of an ongoing series, I am fascinated by how authors keep their characters fresh and their readers wanting more. My son suggested Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels as an interesting case study. After reading the first three books, I was hooked. Research quickly gave way to pleasure as I read every single book. The feature on Kindle that directs me to purchase the next book in the series as soon as I have finished the previous one is extremely helpful – translation – irresistible.

With my research hat on, I asked myself, what makes Jack Reacher a hero who bears up through so many novels? Well … he’s quirky. His constant pursuit of coffee made me love him. Black, steaming hot and out of a thick white mug. Reacher is all about his coffee.

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Then there is his abhorrence for personal possessions – exempting his signature folding toothbrush – this leads to any number of odd and humorous situations. Buying new clothes every three days just adds to Reacher’s quirky mystique. When he remarked that he was amazed to discover second-hand janitorial wear, I cringed and said to myself – Oh my God, Jack – no.

Don’t let Hollywood fool you. Tom Cruise is not Jack Reacher. He is as far from Jack Reacher as anyone could get. Just my opinion. Reacher has hands like pancakes, mussed up hair, cheap, baggy clothing and enough scars to make you cringe, he’s no Don Juan. And he knows it. He’s self-deprecating to a fault.

As the authors of serial fiction, what can we glean from Lee Child’s success? First, we shouldn’t be afraid to create a quirky character. Readers end up loving the eccentricities. One caveat – there must be a reason for the character’s quirkiness. Random weirdness is not what we are after.

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Lee has created a wonderful Littlest Hobo persona for his main character. Jack Reacher roams from town to town making things right.

There’s a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road is where I’ll always be

Every stop I make, I’ll make a new friend
Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll want to settle down,
Until tomorrow, I’ll just keep moving on.

Down this road, that never seems to end,
Where new adventure, lies just around the bend. (Maybe Tomorrow – Terry Bush – Theme song from the Littlest Hobo)

Reacher’s sense of justice is unfailing. He can always be counted on to handle anything thrown at him in terms of physical demands, he always ends up with some girl – though not always the glamour girl. He is more a man who falls into various situations when it comes to women. Some of his relationships last over a couple of books. Some he returns to books later, but Jack is the quintessential wanderer and the beauty of him is that he won’t settle down. Down the road is where he’ll always be.

The movement around the United States is another fascinating aspect of the Jack Reacher novels. In each state and city Reacher finds himself, Child lavishes on location details – streets, landmarks, climate and local customs. It’s like being on a road trip.

Another gleaning – locations rich in detail work well to move characters and books along. Discovering a new city through the eyes of a well-known character is a reader’s delight.

Lee Child does an excellent job at doling out Reacher’s history. Whole books are devoted to his time in the army as an MP and these additions to the series answers the questions that pop up for readers who follow Reacher from town to town and wonder what can possibly motivate him to act as he does.

Our final gleaning is to create a character with a past complicated enough to keep his or her internal struggles going strong book after book. Jack Reacher’s past will take him the rest of his life to work out and that serves Lee Child well. And another caveat – that internal struggle must lead, though it may be halting and awkward at times, to ongoing character development. No reader will put up with being stuck with a character on a long-term basis who isn’t learning and changing.

There you have it. Recipe for a hit series. Makes you want to start doodling around with some character profile cards, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, here’s me thinking I might re-read the whole series.

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Hummingbirds and Freebies

Hummingbird Magic

In Haida legend hummingbirds bring joy and healing. We commonly encounter the Rufus Hummingbird in our area of Northern Vancouver Island. In early spring these little energy-powerhouses leave their wintering grounds in Mexico and find their way north following the early sea level blooms of red flowering current and salmonberry.

The males, distinguished by their bright red neck markings, arrive first. They stake out their feeding territory and defend it with gusto. I’ve seen this phenomenon first hand. The little guy below maintains an ongoing post perched on the edge of our butterfly chimes right next door to the feeder. He is relentless in driving off the other hummingbirds that come around. Though every now and then, a group of five to six females will work together to take over the feeder for a few hours.

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Quick note – Disappearing in Plain Sight, 1st book in the Crater Lake Series, is FREE through midnight June 8th. It is trending right now at #1 in literary fiction sagas in the Amazon free store. Here’s you chance to get a jump on some highly-rated summer reading.

Crater Lake Series Banner

Freelance editor, Sarah Stewart, describes the novel in the following way:

I read upwards of ten books a month in my work as an editor and it’s quite rare for me to encounter a story that stays with me for months afterward. This book did just that rare thing for me … I crave getting enveloped in a story, one that is entertaining and well-paced, but intelligent too. I love it when novels deal in equal measure with interpersonal relationships/ romances and more systemic issues such as bullying, trauma, and oppression. As such, I devoured this story, felt attached to the characters, and was sorry when it was over. Not to mention that her beautiful prose me yearn for the rugged west coast that I’d moved from not long before I read it. These are all marks of a wonderful book for me. Disappearing in Plain Sight is well worth reading.

Here’s hoping you enjoy this free offer and all the joy and healing magic that hummingbirds bring.

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The Down and Dirty on Getting Book Reviews

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I remember once bemoaning my lack of book reviews with a close friend and she told me –

Real readers don’t write reviews. Think about it? Did you ever write a book review before you needed one yourself?

Good question and my answer was no.

Garnering my first book reviews was painful. The process involved trawling a limited pool of readers and that pool often seemed covered by thick ice. I chipped away at the following groups:

Other self-published authors. I was aware of my need for book reviews and I recognized that same need in others. Since publishing an ebook and starting to read on a Kindle, I discovered a host of great new authors. I wanted to be supportive. By fishing in this pond, I hoped others felt the same.

Future self-published authors. I solicited in this pool to catch authors who were hoping to build up future review capital. Yup – once again – reciprocal obligations.

Members of authors’ review circles. This is a type of group where reviews are either exchanged outright or there is an arrangement in which  A reviews B and B reviews C on down the line. A review in one of these circles can be powerfully echoed across social media on the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of the various members. But whichever way I chose to drop the line, I was on the hook to provide reviews to get reviews. Do you see a theme emerging?

Book review bloggers. The best sites were absolutely not looking for any reciprocal activity but the competition to have my book work its way to the top of a blogger’s pile was fierce. Hooking a high-quality book blogger doesn’t happen every day.

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Suffice to say, I wasn’t catching many reviews for the effort involved in baiting my line. But I knew the numbers mattered. I wanted to qualify for various promotional opportunities and I needed those reviews.

In my last post, I wrote about the number of ways the self-published author is vulnerable to those who seek to make their money by taking ours. Many sites offer book reviews in exchange for cash. But purchasing reviews is not an advised practice with perhaps the exception of the big bucks required to get a Kirkus review. Amazon seems fine with those. Ignore the unfair reality that publishing houses pay top dollar to get high-quality reviews for their authors. No one said the life of the self-published author would be fair.

I have learned the hard way to avoid trading reviews with other authors. Amazon is onto this practice and they frown upon it. I know of one self-published author who has had most of her reciprocal reviews pulled down. A lot of effort for no gain on either side. But Amazon regulations aside, reciprocal reviewing put me in a tight spot. If the other person gave me a 5-star review, no matter the number of times I jumped up and down and sworn I would only review honestly, I did feel swayed to give a great review in exchange. This is human nature and if I’m anything, I am human.

I have recently heard of a new Amazon review policy, meant to stop the seemingly unstoppable tide of phoney reviews. Readers must have spent a minimum of $50.00 as an Amazon customer to place a review. Many have screamed unfair and shouted for the rights of the reader who has only bought one ebook ever and has developed a burning need to review that book. Too bad, so sad. Amazon wants reviews written by committed readers – not one-time only buyers, not bots or anonymous voices in the wilderness filling in blanks on a review template provided for them by a company who charged the author big bucks to get that book 50 reviews.

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So – what is the self-published author to do? How is he or she to get those all important initial reviews? How do you find genuine fans?

Do beat the bushes the best you can. Solicit book reviewers and bloggers. Make sure your contact email is at the back of your ebook. Invite readers to contact you. Offer them an incentive for making the effort. When a reader emails you, ask them politely to put their thoughts about your book in writing on Amazon if they haven’t already done so. Let them know that reviews can be as simple as – I love this book because ____________. They can fill in the blank and they’ve often done just that in their email to you.

Getting these initial reviews isn’t easy. It won’t happen overnight. But you don’t need hundreds. I snagged my first BookBub promotion with 33 reviews.

So – let’s talk about the genuine fans. They do exist! I didn’t catch them until I started commercial fishing in the great lake of readers who discovered my books through my first BookBub feature. This promotion meant wide spread exposure to a targeted audience of ebook readers who were interested in my writing genre. Since then, through various other promotions, I offer the first book of my series free and I’ve managed to introduce my writing to new readers and create a halo effect of sales over all my books.

It turns out real readers do write book reviews and post them on Amazon. At last count, reviews for Disappearing in Plain Sight (first book in the Crater Lake Series) have zoomed up to 163. And reviews still matter. I’ve discovered that even when I offer one of my books FREE, people still check out the latest reviews before downloading the book.

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There you have it – the down and dirty on book reviews for the self-published author. Please weigh-in on this issue. Let me know what you think, what you’ve tried and how the act of getting book reviews makes you feel.

Long Weekend Give-Away

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No time like a wintery long weekend to cozy up with a good book. When you can start a whole series for FREE, who can resist?

Get Disappearing in Plain Sight – 1st book in the highly acclaimed Crater Lake Series – FREE today and tomorrow. Enjoy!

Check the deal out on             Amazon.com          Amazon.ca             Amazon.co.uk

Five Star Review: Great start to a wonderful series

First book of a great series. I’ve just finished the 4th in the series and they just keep getting better. This first book really sets the scene and allows you to start connecting with characters. Each book tells a great story. This first one will get you hooked for those that follow. Enjoy!

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Storyboards and a Free Book!

Giving up the Fight

Well, the storyboard is up on the wallSmile Serious work on the 5th novel in the Crater Lake Series has begun.

If you’ve been following my Author Facebook page or my Twitter feed, you’ll know that this weekend you can grab the 4th book in the Crater Lake Series FREE! No Compass to Right is just waiting to be downloaded to your Kindle device or app. Go for it and Happy Holidays.

Five Star Amazon Reveiw:

Wow, I went through this series unable to stop, in love with the setting, each and every character, their stories, their hopes and dreams, and wishing there was yet another book. Lovely writing, Ms. Guenette! Thank you.

Amazon.com link

Amazon.ca link

Amazon UK link

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