Read an E-book Week

Welcome to the 10th annual Read an E-book Week. The Smashwords site is offering A Place in the World ( set in the Colombian cloud forest) for $1  this week only. (As of last night Amazon was also matching the price on their Kindle books – let me know if you have trouble with that).

You will find thousands of other e-books that are free or deep-discounted this week through March 9. These include multi-formats (Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple users, Kobo and more) in their e-catalog. If you find books you recommend on this site  please let others know by commenting below.


Wikipedia says “The main reasons more people are buying e-books online are  lower prices, increased comfort (as they can buy from home or on the go with mobile devices) and a larger selection of titles…In the space that a comparably sized physical book takes up, an e-reader can contain thousands of e-books, limited only by its memory capacity. Depending on the device, an e-book may be readable in low light or even total darkness.”

The last two sentences are the reasons I take my e-reader when I travel, but then, I confess, I often prefer to hold a”real” book (unless it is more than 300 pages or so!).

What about you: e-books or print?

The Best Novels I Read in 2015 (Part II)

Last week I described a number of books I really enjoyed in 2015, but saving the best for last, my top three novels are: A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner, Thieving Forest by Martha Conway and The Physician by Noah Gordon. All three are meticulously researched with period details and have  wonderful characters.

THe physicianI love the opening line of The Physician: “But it came to seem that Kilmarnock had always been his life, and that what had happened before was a tale he had heard told around the fire when the wind blew cold.” This fascinating novel is set in Saxon England and 11th-century Persia. Bob Cole is orphaned in London and apprenticed to a barber-surgeon. As he grows to manhood he learns of a legendary Persian University of medicine. The adventure includes not only a dangerous journey, but a risky impersonation as he wins the Shah’s favor, falls in love and becomes a well-regarded physician. The research covers medieval medicine, Britain and Persia, and the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religions of the time. Compelling, entertaining and informative, I highly recommend it. This book has been around for a long time, but I always say stories never grow old.


51WDAYsMQ7L._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_A Fall of Marigolds: Ah, a book to curl up with by the fire on a winter evening – a story about love and loss, secrets and the aftermath of a disaster. It is well crafted even if a couple of scenes felt a bit contrived. The lyrical writing meshes a contemporary story (of 9/11) with a tale about a nurse on Ellis Island in 1911 – all bound together by a beautiful scarf (you’ll see).  An easy read that imparts some background on New York City and Ellis Island. I gave it five stars – based on the pleasure this book gave me



thievingFinally Thieving Forest is a page-turning novel set in the 1800’s, by a new writer.  Four sisters are kidnapped by “friendly” Indians, for mysterious reasons, and a fifth sister takes off in the Ohio wilderness to find them.  Susanna is only seventeen years old and the hardships she endures on her harrowing, authentic journey are vivid.  As writer myself, I again admire the amount of research that went into this richly detailed book. One thing people may find jarring are the occasional shifts in point of view from the main protagonist  (personally I don’t mind breaking this rule.) One of the best books I read this year.


Have you read any of these books? My full reviews for these and other books are on  A list of my all time favorite books can be found at cindamackinnon.wordpress/books-i-have-known-and-loved/.   What are yours?

The Best Books I Read Last Year

In the last year I read number of books I recommend. I‘ve become a little stingy with the number of stars I give a review – am I becoming jaded by the plethora of good books? Or maybe I should just give up the star system; sometimes it is like comparing apples and oranges.  All of the following are well written, but their place in my heart (rating) is based on just that. (No two people read the same book.) Fiction dominates my short list of nine, and of these, all but one are historical novels – I guess that is my favorite genre.

quiet-bookIn nonfiction my favorite book by far was Quiet by Susan Cain. The full title tells you a lot: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Carl Jung gave us the terms “introvert” for personality types drawn to the inner world of thought and feelings and “extrovert” for those drawn to the external life of people and activities. Gregarious extroverts are the life of the party because their brains are good at handling competing attention, whereas an introvert may feel overwhelmed by the noise and multitasking of the group setting and prefer one-on-one or a quiet evening at home. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert who loves or works with one, this book is enlightening. Extroverted personalities are appealing yet let’s not forget great introverts such as: Frederic Chopin, Albert Einstein, William Butler Yeats, George Orwell, Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi and JK Rowlings.

 41bdVJOBoxL._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_ One highly acclaimed book I gave only four stars was The Luminaries. Here’s why:  it is no easy read and yet it is worth the effort – and that’s the gist of it.  It was more of a mental challenge than pleasure to spend time with and it is LONG.   The truth is if I had never heard of it and had not known it won a Booker Prize I probably would have put it down after 50 pages.  (I felt the same way about The Goldfinch last year – sorry fans, but where was her editor?)  It’s a commitment to get through some 850 pages of changing points of view within chapters, time jumps (wait a minute that guy was dead 100 pages ago), “telling vs. showing” and dozens of characters, each with seemingly tangential stories that the reader has to keep straight. The setting, the West Coast gold rush of New Zealand, is marvelous however. In sum, Eleanor Catton breaks all the rules -and gets away with.

Others I recommend  are The Infatuations by Javier 41A22DyqYgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Marias and Euphoria by Lily King.  (These authors are both five star writers but I base my honest opinion on how much I personally enjoyed the story.)  The Infatuations is set in Spain, and deals with death, desire, and the effects of chance and timing on outcomes. More than one infatuation is going on in this suspenseful, often dark story.  It is an intellectual novel, interesting and different, but at times pedantic with lengthy digressions.                        I love 51s2YlJboaL._AC_SX60_CR,0,0,60,60_historical fiction and have an interest in anthropology so Euphoria fit that criteria. King depicts Margaret Meade and her two lovers in the river villages of New Guinea in the 1930s and transports you in time and place; I should give it 4 1/2 stars.

wingsThe Invention of Wings, came very close to the 5 star mark. I was hesitant to read another book on the horrors and degradation of slavery, but this is a powerful novel – and based on real-life remarkable women of the time.

searchAccabadora by Michela Murgia is a little gem of a book, well-known in Italy, which won a number of European prizes. The novel takes the reader into village life in Sardinia in the 1950s.  The remarkable Bonaria is the “Accabadora” who eases the suffering of the dying, and sometimes ends it.   When her adopted child discovers this, she feels betrayed and rejects her.  A beautiful slice of life– set in a culture and place not many of us have experienced.

I’ll save my top three novels for next time – tune-in next week.

Have you read any of the above? If so do you agree/disagree?   Please share with us which books you enjoyed by commenting below.


Poetry, prose and everything between

Hilary C. Green surprised and honored me with a review of A Place in the World, along with several other books, on her blog, Green Writing Room.  Hilary has a few books under her belt, including Unseen Unsung , which is on my to-read list; it is about an opera singer who meets a girl in a catastrophe and searches for her afterwards . Her book Border Line was recently reviewed on Rosie Amber’s book site and she is currently working on nonfiction about the POWs in WWII who labored on the infamous Thailand-Burma Railroad. (My own father was shot down in this area and managed to walk out and escape capture by the Japanese.)  Check out these sites – you’ll be glad you did!

Poetry, prose and everything between.

Only two more days to Win the Book Giveaway: A Place in the World

Are you a member of Goodreads (GR)? GR is a large site for readers to review and/or find book recommendations. They are sponsoring a giveaway of A Place in the World ….. “an award-winning, multicultural-literary novel laced with romance and adventure.”

book cover          2014-ContestSEMIFINALIST
Alicia, a young American expat, marries Colombian Jorge Carvallo and they settle on his family’s remote coffee finca  in the Andes Mountains. Educated as a biologist, she revels in the surrounding cloud-forest. However, following an idyllic year, calamities strike one after another……

For more information or to win a softcover copy (several are being offered so 3 chances!) here:



Indie/Self-Publishing (Publishing 101 Part II)

Recently I wrote about traditional or commercial publishing.  This post addresses the pros and cons of indie or self-publishing.

Writers are turning to self-publishing after running the gauntlet of publishers and agents – it’s an exciting time. In the strictest definition this means you will handle not just the printing, but also the editing, distribution and marketing; you will be in charge of every facet. That said, there are so many companies out there that will handle different aspects of this for you.  At a minimum everyone will tell you to hire a good editor – and they are right. An editor can help make the difference between a mediocre book that never takes off and a scintillating read.

In the old days there was the stigma of “vanity presses” and that was just about an indie author’s only option outside of traditional publishers.  In fact they are still out there: beware being talked into paying thousands of dollars for books that could end up in your garage (unless you have a stellar marketing plan).

But times have changed and the quality and reputation of self-published books has gone up. This is where the greatest growth in publishing is occurring. The grand prize winner at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year is a self-published book, A Chair with a View by David Sabine. (And I can’t bypass the opportunity to say A Place in the World came in second in the Indie category). 12756072   thumbnail cvr

Actually there is a history of self-published writers ranging from James Joyce and Gertrude Stein to Mark Twain. Even Margaret Atwood has joined the group. Authors are publishing their own books because of opportunity,  speed (relative to the year{s} it takes to publish traditionally)and to garner a bigger share of the sales.

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There is a veritable gamut of companies ranging from strictly print-on-demand (POD) printers to Indie publishers who are a bit more selective and offer a menu of services similar to the traditional (“Big Gun”) houses. The costs are as varied as the companies so you need to comparison-shop. One book I found thorough and helpful is: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine – which by the way is a highly successful SP book.Fine Print of SP

Not only will he teach you the basics of self-publishing, but he gives information on over two dozen companies, rates them and tells you what to look for in a good POD.

With traditional publishing you send a query letter to agents and the smaller publishing houses (the big ones will not look at a query unless it is from an agent) – fish around for awhile – perhaps a long while in what Levine calls the “black hole.” Let’s say you land your fish and give your rights to a traditional publisher for 5-8% royalty – then if you are very lucky (or famous) they will give you an advance. But an advance  must be paid back through book sales before the author receives more money –like a loan you are given against future royalties. Next you will probably get the bad news that the marketing rests with you as they do not have the budget – although they do have the contacts for you. Marketing can be expensive. Thus to my mind, IF you are paying for your own promotion, you might as well go the indie route and keep a much bigger royalty.

Will you get rich with a traditional publisher? Probably not. Will you get rich in SP? Probably not.  It’s difficult to earn even a modest living from writing.  A newbie author might have a more realistic ambition to try to break even, for the joy seeing her/his book in print and sharing it with the world.

So to sum up, the bad news is that you have to do practically everything yourself or hire professionals to help you. Make no mistake: it is a lot of work to do it right. You have to invest money as well as time; while it is possible to publish a book for less than $500 it isn’t possible to have a professionally edited, designed and marketable book distributed for anything like that. Although shop around, because there are deals to be had – I found professionals who were not out to gouge people (in fact in two cases I felt like telling them “you could charge more”!)  Alternatively you can hire a publisher who offers a complete range of necessary services (and usually pay a bit more). I opted to hire my own editor and book designer (but I had contacts, so I knew mine would be as good and I thought probably better, than the in-house ones) although my publisher, Virtual Bookworm would have done these things for me. (BTW I choose this small company a year ago because the owner was willing to hold my hand and walk me through the process – many will not even speak to you by phone.)  I even got my own ISBN so technically I am the publisher – known as Multicultural Press. I have been pretty happy with the decision and A Place in the World has won two modest awards recently.

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Contented indie author.

On the plus side SP gives you an option to traditional publishing (see my post Publishing 101 – the Three Routes from July 17, 2014,) you have a larger slice of the pie, independent control and almost anyone can do it – I say “almost” because it does take drive and organization – but hey you just wrote a whole book didn’t you?

So you have your decisions and work cut out for you (and you thought writing was the hard part?). Before you  give up any rights and/or money  please do your homework – it will pay off in the long run. Another book I can recommend (this one covers all your publishing options from traditional to SP) is: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Eckstut and Sterry.     519UsIKw2gL._AA160_

Please share your experiences and opinions. If you have questions I will endeavor to answer them. (Please comment below rather than on FB).

Good luck!

2014 Kindle Book Awards – A Place in the World is a semifinalist :)

Some happy news came by email yesterday: A Place in the World just made the semifinals list for the 2014 Kindle Best Book Awards in the Literary Fiction category. Finalist to be announced in September.  (In February the novel won an award with the San Francisco Writer’s Conference  in the indie category.)

book cover2014-ContestSEMIFINALIST

My (Nomadic) Writing Life – and various day jobs

I wanted to write by the time I reached middle school.  Even before that I was a story teller, making up tales for my little brother.  When I was 12 I wrote my first short story, a ghost story.  I sent it off to a girls’ magazine and didn’t tell anyone in spite of my pride, or perhaps because of it – I didn’t want anyone to make fun of my aspirations.

Being able to write lucid essays in high school and college, I suspect made me look smarter than I was.  In fact I repeatedly got A’s in Geochemistry even though I didn’t understand much of it.  I listened carefully when Prof. X repeated anything or otherwise indicated that a phrase or equation was important and regurgitated the verbiage back on exams. (I shouldn’t tell you this. I’m setting a bad example and they could revoke my geology degree!)


carretas on beach in Costa Rica


I took a creative writing course by correspondence when I lived in Costa Rica.  That may have been the first time I heard “write what you know.”  I was trying to write about themes and settings from well known books.  Really would anyone want to read about my life in Puerto Limon?  Could anyone relate to the mold growing in my carpet, the woman who removed sand from my toddler’s eye by licking it off his eyeball with her tongue, the landslides that closed both the road and the railroad for months during the rainy season or my two-hour siesta-lunches which I spent body surfing before rushing back to resume teaching my bilingual class to a group of third graders*?

(*Maria Luisa, Raul, Brian, et al my third graders – you are all grown up now.  If you happen to read this: I remember you fondly and hope your lives are turning out nicely.)


At my next job, as an assistant hydrologist in New Zealand, I discovered that my colleagues didn’t like to write (what?) and I offered to write their reports for them.  My boss** soon had me writing and researching the potential for gold in Otago in the South Island, because there were tentative  plans to flood an area for a new dam.


that’s me in front of an old Gold Dredge

  (**Mr. Owen Borlase – I didn’t know how lucky I was to have a boss who valued his employees.  Thank you for your support!)

In the evenings I kept a journal and wrote stories – just for myself and all long since discarded.   I tried to continue this pattern after we moved to the States and my third (or was it my 4th ?) job as a hydrogeologic consultant.  My “big break” came when my boss*** (the same one who once caressed my bum when I bent over a lower shelf for a report) called me into his office to tell me that he was giving my biggest client to an engineer (engineers were “superior” to geologists in the consulting world – at least if your boss was one).  In fact it was the largest account our office had and I was rightly proud that it was mine.  I told him if so, I would have to give my notice – which I did the next day after he said, “Now, now Cinda, don’t be difficult. You can assist him.  You’re such nice girl and we all like you. ”  (I was an 36 year old “girl” with two adolescents at home by now – and about to be downgraded.)

(*** Mr. Watkins – shame on you, on more than one count.)


The reason I say this was a “ break” is that that job was stressful with long hours, no appreciation – and little time for writing.  Writing had become regulated to vacations. So I started consulting on my own and worked the same long hours to run a business, but I was in control of my time with less stress, more pride.  There were periods when work was slow – but “What me worry?” – there was a cash flow problem, but I could write. Eventually I had all the work I wanted and had to turn down clients.  A MBA friend pointed out that in the classic supply-demand situation, I could start charging more ….and perhaps working less (OK that part was my idea, not hers).  As the possibility of early “retirement” materialized (or should I say blossomed?) I became very picky about clients. I was always too busy to schedule jerks.  I worked half-time, taking only interesting jobs that paid well – and the rest of the time I began writing in earnest.  Over the years I pretty much priced myself out of the consulting business.  You may think me spoiled, but believe me I paid my dues to get to this point!

Here I am a few short stories and an awarding winning (I have to plug it don’t I?) novel later.  What excuse do I have not to get the next one down on paper? (Can I ever retire?)

“A Place in the World” Wins an Award

Toot, toot!

A couple of weeks ago I found out “A Place in the World” was a finalist in the San Francisco Writers Conference (SFWC) contest.  My husband and I were flying back home from a vacation in the wee hours of Saturday morning and I debated whether to get up and go hear the announcement of the winners (there were seven finalists, so what were the odds?).   Two things held me back – lack of sleep and the steep cost of attending, but then SFWC organizer Barbara Santos graciously offered me a guest pass for the event.  That sealed the deal: bleary eyed I joined the slow traffic crossing the Bay Bridge and through the city and spent another 20 minutes looking for a place to park ($35 for a three hours), then trudged up a VERY steep four blocks to the Mark Hopkins Hotel.

book cover

It was all worth while when they announced my name in second place. I was excited – now I have an “award winning” novel with a Kirkus review.  I introduced myself to David Sabine, the Grand Prize winner, and when told him I was the “runner-up” and he said “I’m glad I ran faster!”   By the way, his novel, A Chair with a View is another Indie!  This would have been almost unbelievable just a few years ago, but is still remarkable.  Yay – go Indies!

book launch 5-18-13efile

Latest review excerpts:   This well-written, riveting plot captures strong elements of friendship, love, freedom, perseverance and endurance amid all the physical and emotional challenges, heartache and pain. This pages of this novel are filled with beauty  and grandeur.The characters are well-developed, their personalities adding depth and dimension to a story that’s heartwarming and emotionally riveting. It’s a fascinating and moving story .        Wendy Goodreads (See the full review: A-PLACE-IN-THE-WORLD-Review)

“A Place in the World” is a serene, affecting, and poignant novel by a gifted storyteller. This gentle, meditative novel ramped up the tension toward the end and morphed into a genuine thriller. The author created a world that was wholly realistic and honest. In fact, everything about this novel pulsated with authenticity—the place, the characters, the animals, the community, the rebels, the indigenous tribesmen, and most of all, the everyday drama…the sign of a genuine five-star story. I recommend it highly.                         B. Case, Emeriti University Librarian. (See the full review: A-PLACE-IN-THE-WORLD-Review)