2015 – Best books read so far

I know we’re only (only!) half-way through the year, but I’ve already read a stack of great books and I’d like to share those titles with you now. Just in case you’re looking for something good to read over the summer months.

These titles are listed in the order I read them since Jan. 1 and, with three exceptions (that I have marked) I rate them all at 4 out of 5 stars … because, you know, you have to have written a VERY good book, or be Richard Ford, to receive all 5 stars from me. I am a discerning reader.

The Comedians by Graham Greene (reread, actually, and it has stood up through all these years as one of my favourite titles by this author)

The Violin Man’s Legacy and Vengeance Wears Black by Seumas Gallacher (The 1st and 2nd novels in this great Jack Calder series. Seumas has been featured on Reading Recommendations. His fourth novel will be published in Aug.)

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan (I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway and it did not disappoint.)

The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen (A-O has appeared on my “Best Books” list before. As his novels are released in English Dennis and I are reading them and have enjoyed every one so far. I believe this is the 5th in his Department Q series. A stand-alone novel, The Alphebet House, is being released later this summer.)

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Yevin (A friend recommended I read this and I was blown away by it, because it’s about a publishing sales rep and a bookstore owner – right up my alley! The story line was so true-to-life for me, but the writing was incredibly good, as well.)

High Rider by Bill Gallaher (I saw this book listed as a Goodreads Giveaway and contacted the author about promotion on Reading Recommendations. Gallaher was featured on the blog and also offered to send me a reading copy, which I loved from start to finish. Great writing! And a very interesting take on a little-known piece of Western Canadian history.)

12 Rose Street by Gail Bowen (I’ve been along for the ride since the beginning with Gail [literally, since I was her sales rep back then] on her series of mysteries and I can guarantee that the novels just keep getting better and better! And the very good news is that a new novel will be released in May 2016! Gail definitely deserves 5 stars from me and has been featured on Reading Recommendations!)

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (I have long been a fan of Tyler’s writing. This is yet another great book from a master storyteller.)

Dangerous Obsessions by Bob van Laerhoven (Bob was a surprise discovery whom I met online and featured on Reading Recommendations, because he’s Flemish Belgian – like my mother and grandparents! We’ve been corresponding ever since … and he has read, commented on, and enjoyed my grandparent stories. I say “surprise discovery” though, because aside from having a nationality in common, Bob is also a very fine and accomplished writer. I read this collection of short stories that has been translated into English and found them to be very compelling with nary a slip in the translation that might cause confusion. Bob translated several of the stories himself and did a fine job.)

Daddy Lenin by Guy Vanderhaeghe (I will always buy hardcover books by this author as soon as they are released. I have enjoyed everything he’s written and this collection of stories was no exception.)

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay (I read the ARC of this new novel that will be released in Aug. and enjoyed the writing, storyline, and characters immensely. The only Hay book I had read previously was A Student of Weather and that has long been on my list of Best Books I have EVER read. I predict this new novel will do very well indeed.)

Beneath the Bonfire by Nickolas Butler (I became a fan of this author when he published Shotgun Lovesongs, so I had to have a hardcover copy of this new collection of short stories when it was released. Still the same excellent writing and quirky characters as in his novel, so I very much enjoyed this one, as well.)

Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (I don’t normally read bestselling books everyone else is reading, but I made an exception here, and this is the one book on the list that only receives 3 stars. While the story line was different and compelling and the pace was good for a thriller, I didn’t like the structure of the book and felt that the 3 women who told the story from their points of view sounded too much alike so that the story became somewhat confusing to me at times. Still, a gripping thriller, if that’s what you’re into.)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (And here’s my other 5-star read … Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and most deserving at that! There is not a word or a sentence or a description or character or scene that’s out of place in this book. It’s the first I’ve read by Doerr, but I am already looking for the rest of his books. I cannot rave enough about this. I only just finished reading it last night, but I know this will stay with me for a very long time. If you read nothing else of my list, do read this one book. Please read it. Writing this good does not come along often enough.)

A new blog …

Because I didn’t already have enough to do, and I needed yet another reason for novel-writing avoidance (yes, sad but true, Tim and Rachel), I decided to begin writing a new blog filled with my current thoughts on the world and my own personal perspective from where I read and write – in my trailer in Canada and on my verandah on Bequia.

So I offer you The View From My Trailer and Verandah and hope you will consider joining me over there for what I hope will become some interesting discussions.

(If you wish to receive email notices of new posts on the other blog you will need to subscribe to it separately.)

Zika is the new Chikungunya …

At the very least, this new virus has a name that’s easier to spell and pronounce. But it’s still yet-another virus the Caribbean region must contend with, and only a short while after declaring that ChikV was over and done with in most islands.

12-year-old girl first in the Caribbean to contract the Zika virus 

It was less than a year ago I contracted ChikV when I returned to Bequia for a few weeks to spell Dennis while he paid a visit to Canada. Throughout the months of suffering … and yes, I do not use the word “suffering” lightly! … I wrote about the virus in a number of blog posts (collected here) that received a great deal of attention from around the world and comments written by others who had also contracted the virus while they were visiting, or living in, the Caribbean region, and who now took comfort in the knowledge they were not alone, that they were likely not going to die, and that they would eventually, eventually recover and feel “normal” again.

Well, here I am, writing this 11 months later, and I can honestly say I am feeling about 96% recovered, the only lingering pain being that soreness that seems to be inside the very bones of my right shoulder. That still bothers me every once in a while (just last night, again), but is not excruciating or debilitating, just annoying.

So you may understand my trepidation with the announcement of this new easier-to-spell-and-pronounce virus, Zika. I am gun-shy about travelling to the Caribbean again any time soon. While I currently sit in the woods of Ontario, surrounded by clouds of mosquitoes, I at least know these are the non-virus-bearing variety. Besides, they’re also large enough to carry away a small dog and move so slowly I have a fair chance of actually swatting and killing them before they can manage to bite. It seems like more of a fair fight to me. The mosquitoes on Bequia are sneaky and have a way of beating all our attempts to eradicate them – especially the fogging with poisonous chemicals, which was the only attempt made by the government to deal with Chikungunya last year, and instead resulted in the kill-off of part of the bee population. The mosquitoes themselves somehow managed to dodge that bullet. What stopped the further spread of the virus was that nearly everyone on the island contracted it and, since the virus could not be spread from human to human, it eventually died out, naturally. This is what’s called “herd immunity”.

Let’s hope Caribbean health authorities and governments learned from their mistakes last year in dealing with ChikV and, instead of hiding their heads in the sand (believing that by doing so they were somehow protecting their tourist industry), they take immediate action to stop the spread of Zika, the new kid on the beach, before it gets a foothold. No one … NO ONE! should be made to suffer again as we all did last year with Chikungunya. Bad enough already we have to contend with the constant threat of Dengue (which I have had), Malaria, West Nile, and all the other mosquito-borne diseases, fevers, threats, than to be worried about Zika, as well.

And we can begin eradicating viruses such as Zika by educating the people! This blog post, and the other earlier posts I wrote about ChikV, are my attempt to spread the word to help stop the spread of the virus. Please share this, and my other posts, wherever possible so many more people read and hear about these mosquito-borne viruses and learn to take proper precautions.

(How’s that for a slogan?)

I want to hear from you, if you contracted Chikungunya last year and have been following my blog posts abut the virus. How are you doing? Have you now recovered? Please post a comment below and let me and my readers know of your experience. I really do want to hear from you!

…Authors… a reader’s review is a ‘gift’, not an ‘entitlement’…


True words from Seumas Gallacher! We authors love every review we receive, but should never expect to receive a review from every reader.

Originally posted on Seumas Gallacher:


…an honest review is as gold dust to any writer… and I care not if the scribbler is a newbie, self-publishing indie… or a decades-established leading name for a major publishing firm… each and every time any reader takes the patience and trouble to offer his/her opinion on yer literary labours, it’s another one of an Author’s ‘golden moments’… an acknowledgement yer WURK is recognised… and let me affirm to yeez, it truly matters not whether the rating is 1-star, all the way to 5-stars, if it’s honest, it’s a learning mark for yeez… accept them all… usually with more than just a pinch of salt if they swing too much to the dark side or praise yeez to the high heavens… and as a wee aside, it’s worth bearing in mind not everybody on the planet is gonna LUV yer wee masterpiece with quite the same intensity…

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Why? – FYI…


It’s as simple as A, B, C, D, E, F … Gee! What are you waiting for??? You couldn’t ask for better promotion for yourself as an author than The Story Reading Ape’s blog! (And, come to think of it, I myself am overdue to revisit the Friendly Ape’s site. Thanks for the reminder, Chris!)

Originally posted on Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog:

1. Why do I ask my new Guest Authors to write about themselves, rather than about their book(s)?


Because there are already an excessive number of ‘Buy My Book’ spam tweets, promos and the like already circulating around Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Blogs and many other media, so potential readers usually switch off and turn away from them.


It satisfies humankind’s natural curiosity, aka nosiness, about other people, especially those who have done something the vast majority of others may never do themselves, i.e., written books and actually published them.


It takes authors out of their normal comfort zone, making them learn how to talk about themselves without sounding pompous, self-serving, conceited, etc.

This is also a useful talent when dealing with Agents, Publishers, etc, as well :D


It gives authors the opportunity to prove and demonstrate their writing talents are not just limited to the books…

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Let’s get one thing straight!

I can’t believe that, after all this time since eBooks first hit the market, I would need to write a rant like this, so please bear with me …

On June 1, 2014, I published this blog post, No more “vs.” – Okay?, because I was weary of all the adversity that has proliferated in this writing and book business over the decades I’ve been part of it. I don’t know that my post made the slightest bit of difference, but getting all that off my chest at least made me feel a bit better.

There is one “vs.” though that still seems to be prevalent out there. And I see this being said often enough to make me want to reach into cyberspace and shake those who continue to do this, telling them to “Stop Right There!”

Stop referring to Print books as “REAL” books! Just stop it right now!!

All the stories, essays, words-we-string-together and publish for others to read are BOOKS. They are all REAL BOOKS, in fact, because a “Book” is what we write.

Print and eBook are the “formats” in which we choose to publish our BOOKS. This formatting can also include audio, iBook, and whatever else happens to be out there at the moment.

ALL of these formats are REAL BOOKS! Get it?

I am so tired of the only-print faction of writers/readers who constantly hold up their personal choice of format, calling them REAL, as though this were some kind of superior method of reading the material we, as writers and publishers, produce.

As a writer and a publisher, I have always believed it is our duty to provide our BOOKS in whichever format our readers wish to read them. (Obviously, within our own budget constraints and our ability to deliver these formats to the readers.)

So, please, let’s completely drop the REAL description when touting the benefits of one format over another, shall we? After all, if you do describe print books as “real” you’re only proving to me, at least, that you don’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about.


I hope I’ve cleared up any misconceptions, for once and for all.

Thank you.

Runaway Smile is an Award-Winning Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards


Congratulations to Nicholas C. Rossis whose book “Runaway Smile” has been named an Award-Winning Finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards! Well done!

Originally posted on Nicholas C. Rossis:

Runaway Smile by fantasy, science fiction and children's books author Nicholas C. Rossis is a Finalist in the 2015 International Book AwardsI got some exciting news yesterday, which I wanted to share with all of you! USA Book News announced the winners and finalists of THE 2015 INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS (IBA) on May 21, 2015.

Over 300 winners and finalists were announced in over 80 categories and awards were presented for titles published in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Runaway Smile, my children’s book, was an award-winning finalist in the 2015 International Book Awards, in the Children’s Fiction category!

I want to thank my parents, and my wife, Electra, and Dimitris Fousekis, and . Sorry, Electra told me that this is not that kind of post. She promised to listen to my speech as soon as I’m done, though, so I’d better wrap this up and fetch the shampoo bottle (which doubles as award-accepting-ceremony-microphone in our household).

Before I go, a big thank you to all of you who have taken the time…

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Goodreads Giveaway – 5 copies of Island in the Clouds!!

To help celebrate my birthday on June 21st, I’m running another Goodreads Giveaway of print copies of my novel, Island in the Clouds! 5 lucky entrants living in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia will each win a signed copy. You must be a member of Goodreads to participate, and that’s free, so why not join today? You’ll receive lots of great reading recommendations and be able to enter many more giveaways than just mine.

Please tell your friends and encourage them to enter as well!!

If you have already read Island in the Clouds, but would still like to help me celebrate my birthday, please leave a comment on this post wishing me a Happy Birthday, and I will contact you individually to send each of you a special gift! Think of this as me providing each of my Birthday Party Guests with a loot bag, just for attending!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Island in the Clouds by Susan M. Toy

Island in the Clouds

by Susan M. Toy

Giveaway ends June 21, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to Win

The Writer’s Pro Shop Series, Why You Need It – A Guest Post by Hubert O’Hearn

Hubert O’Hearn has previously been featured on Reading Recommendations. He is a Canadian-born playwright and journalist who now lives in Ireland. When he announced his new The Writer’s Pro Shop Series recently I asked if he’d like to write a guest blog post to help promote this service that’s intended for writers at all levels in their careers. So, here’s Hubert!

The Writer’s Pro Shop Series. Why You Need It.

Hubert profile The Writer’s Pro Shop is a series of weekly writing exercises I am offering for free on the internet. Not only are these important skill development exercises on my own website (bythebookreviews.blogspot.com), I’m also allowing anyone with a personal website or blog to freely use this content just so long as it is properly attributed back to me. Everybody wins!

Why Did I Develop These Exercises?

Through my work as an independent book editor I have discovered that my writer-clients get stuck in patterns. They – and probably you – see their writing projects in only one perspective and so, when a need arises for a change to a scene or even a book’s overall structure arises, they literally do not know how to shift their minds to write anew.

Because of the above, I started using a modified technique derived from my work as a theatre director and acting coach. Actors too get stuck in their heads, to use the conventional phrase. They are reluctant to try something different when playing a part because what they have been doing feels safe. Familiar is safe, change is scary. Therefore I would challenge them with games, improvised situations, role switching, you name it, just to get them to see their character and scene differently and so jump-start the discovery process.

For writers, I would suggest similar exercises, short assignments related to the manuscript yet not necessarily a re-writing of a given scene or chapter. If there was a scene in a novel that involved two main characters having a conversation in a restaurant, how did the waiter observe that? Re-do a paragraph in the present active voice. If the dialogue was dull, write a four-way conversation with no ‘John said’ indicators yet have the four voices be individually identifiable.

Because these were exercises and not taking a sledgehammer to the walls of the novel (these techniques work perfectly well with non-fiction, drama and poetry too) my writers did not feel threatened; instead they were freshened. So that is where the idea for both The Writer’s Pro Shop and my Six Months to Better Writing subscription course began. Yet I wanted to take it a step further. I started to think of writing in terms of Sports Science.

What Does Sports Science Have to Do With This?

Let’s assume you have a favourite sport. Your favourite team or individual performer does not train by only playing practice games. That might be fun, yet playing the same way does not result in improved performance, or at least not efficiently. As the great golf coach David Ledbetter says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect.”

I took a look at two games – golf and poker – for comparisons to writing. If you’re a golfer and you go to a driving range, are you like most people and just stand on the tee and hammer away at your dwindling bucket seeing how far you can hit the ball with each club? Do you ever try a new swing thought, stance, cut or draw, rhythm, or anything at all different from what you’ve always done before? Have you ever worked one-on-one with a pro? You can only see yourself from within yourself, whereas the pro sees all of you. Bear that in mind as we proceed.

Poker is another great metaphor for writing. It costs $10,000 to enter the Main Event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Anyone with ten grand can enter, and literally thousands of ‘anyones’ enter every year, which is why the prize money for the winner has risen to the multi-million dollar range. $10,000 is a pretty good number for a writer to consider. When you factor in the time you take researching and writing a book, plus formatting and marketing it, if you are going the independent route, you’re spending at least $10,000. Now, is that money going towards making you money, or is it adding to the prize purse of a marketer or Amazon/Kindle?

How is this relating to writing?

Writers are exactly like the golfer who just practices the same thing over and over, or the poker player who enters the World Series convinced he can be the next amateur to win the whole thing having done nothing to prepare other than being the best among a small group of friends. Both are making their ways, their habits of playing, permanent.

That, my curious friend, is exactly what with absolutely no exaggeration 99% of all writers do, which is why only about 1% of all writers make a living at it. They don’t work to improve their game.

Look at the practice range at the next major golf tournament on TV. What do you see the players doing? They are working with their coach, their caddy, even other players, getting swing tips and advice. At the WSOP, even someone who has won multiple winner’s diamond bracelets, like Phil Hellmuth, spends weeks before the event practicing specific situations that may come up during the actual tournament. Pro golfers and professional poker players alike are always looking for that little insight that will make them one-tenth of one percent better, because that 0.1% improvement is the difference between cashing a decent cheque or eating hot dogs for dinner.

What Most Writers Do is What You Shouldn’t Do

Most writers – and this definitely includes many of the greats – use the same inefficient technique for improvement. They write an article or a book, it doesn’t sell, so they write another. They may read a book about writing, or some interviews, maybe listen to an editor like me, then go and write another article or book (or play, poem etc.). Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat …

What makes no sense to me is why anyone would go through a process that can take years or decades before it makes a positive change in a writer’s skills. Go spend that $10,000 on scratch tickets, because you’re playing the same odds and you’ll save yourself a lot of time.

The Writer’s Pro Shop Exercises: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

This is why I have built this series of exercises. I know that you need to work on specific parts of your game. You need to make your strengths – let’s say you’re brilliant at dialogue – powerful strengths, plus we’ll use what you’re already strong at to improve the areas of writing you’re weak at.

Now, there is a flaw to all this! I would be dishonest if I said The Writer’s Pro Shop is all you need to succeed. The flaw is that you’re like the golfer who works out and practices with a mirror or video camera, guided by a coaching manual or DVD. You really aren’t getting direct feedback and commentary from a pro. You really do need to work one-on-one with someone you feel comfortable with and who knows what they’re talking about. But I’ll save my strong suggestion that you sign up for the Six Months to Better Writing course until the very end of this article. So let’s just ‘q.v.’ that one for now.

What I have done in the Writer’s Pro Shop is develop weekly writing assignments that you can easily adapt to a present project, or use generally to improve your skills. It is really based on not anything so technical as improving your grammar or expanding your word choices. Using our golf metaphor once more, those factors are club selection; we need to work on your swing and visualization.

Visualization is everything in the Writer’s Pro Shop Series. We write what we observe, after what we observe runs through the colours of our imagination. So, let’s observe differently. It will be easier for both of us if I show you what I mean. Here is the first exercise I give every client, from absolute newbies to seasoned professionals:

On the internet, find a photo of a painting that interests you and draws your attention. The only restriction is that it must contain at least one person in it. Download the photo, then write 500 words of any story you feel emerging from it. Do not concern yourself with a beginning or end. Just write what you feel. This is not for publication, so allow your instincts room to play.

Do you get it? To write more artistically, think like an artist. To short-cut the process, that exercise makes you look at a piece of reality that a painter has already seen as art. Then we move on through areas like:
• Character development
• Dialogue
• Finding the crucial detail
• What voice to use
• Making a plot logical, yet still enthralling

And (using my TV pitchman’s voice) many more!

Working One-on-One

Speaking of TV pitchmen, you do need to work one-on-one with a coach like me. I’m not a big believer in writing workshops. I don’t take them, I don’t lead them, frankly I avoid them. I find that their time is too compressed and they tend to break down into something akin to a herd of rutting stags clashing horns. They may be great vacations and you may have a couple of great takeaways in terms of tips or friendships, but as a career developer ….. meh.

Six Months to Better Writing, my course, uses the same exercises as The Writer’s Pro Shop, except I adapt them to suit your specific needs. Also, you get direct commentary every week from me on your assignment, along with the next week’s assignment that frequently builds off the work you have already turned in. Sixty bucks a month, quit any time, or stay longer than six months. Plus I limit the number of student/clients I work with to 24. Any more, I’m a factory and the only good writing that came out of a factory was Cannery Row.

Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions?

If you want to get in touch with me about either the Pro Shop or my course you can email me here or by using the contact info below. Regardless, thank you for reading this. That’s all we writers ever ask for: Someone to read our stuff.

Be seeing you.

Hubert O’Hearn is the author of two books, an independent editor, and a professional book and music reviewer. He also is the designer of the Six Months to Better Writing Course, working one-on-one with writers drawn from the entire range of experience. For comments or queries he can be reached at ohearnofireland@gmail.com)

How Many Tools are in Your Writing Toolbox?


From Tim Baker, a great reminder of what all writers need in their writing toolbox …

Originally posted on blindoggbooks:

In the world of professional baseball, teams send scouts to colleges (sometimes even high schools) to evaluate young talent.

There are five aspects of the game that these scouts look for, and naturally, the more areas a player excels at, the higher he is rated—they are hitting for power, hitting for average, fielding, throwing and speed.


A player who demonstrates proficiency in all five of these areas is rare, and is referred to as a five-tool-player.

Bo Jackson, Mike Schmidt and Kirby Puckett are a few examples of such elite players.

Naturally, it isn’t necessary to be a five-tool player to be successful in Major League Baseball, but obviously it is to a player’s advantage to possess strength in as many of the five as possible.

So it is, too, with writing.


You don’t have to be a five-tool-writer to be successful, but you should work to excel…

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