Thoughts on Book Covers, and eBooks or is Fabio Obsolete?

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Lately I have been thinking about books. I know, I know….like that is anything new.  But two things have made me give another look at two book-related items I have always taken for granted.  Book covers and dust jackets.

First, a look at book covers.  I hate to admit it but when I think of book covers, the first thing that jumps to mind are those lurid, over the top paperback covers for bodice rippers.  For a time they prominently featured a model called Fabio and made him a star.  But they always had a damsel in distress and featured a gorgeous guy, long hair flowing, with a shirt artlessly opened to show a muscled chest.  Get me a fan now! Uh hem….back to the point I was making. I also remember those beloved gothic romances I couldn’t get enough of.  You could always tell a gothic book from its cover.  Dark, either on a moor or near a forest, mansion/castle placed nearby.  A heroine in a long diaphanous garb flees, head turned backwards.  Didn’t matter who the author was, you knew what you were getting as you browsed the aisles of the bookstore. Now we have books bought online.  Whether it is from epublishers like Dreamspinner Press or Loose Id, or from Amazon (Kindle) or Barnes and Noble (Nook), how does a book attract me as a buyer?

As my local bookstores disappear (another discussion for another time), most of my books are bought online.  First, the author.  There are authors who are must buys for me so that’s obvious.  But the cover is no longer the first draw when it comes to eBooks.  Why is that? The answers to that question are varied and numerous.  When looking at books online, the covers by necessity are small, and sometimes hard to see.  The publishers and artists designing the covers should take this in mind but too often, the covers are designed as though it was a print version only.  I can see this if the book is to be released in both formats.  The publisher wants to avoid confusion and brand the book.  Fine.  But what about those books published only online? Or those self published by those with no design background?  Cheap covers, muddled covers, or covers just too busy with multiple fonts, and hard to see graphics can be the end result.  That is not to say there aren’t wonderful artists out there producing great eBook covers because there are. Its just that the cover alone is not enough to grab my attention.

So how do I choose a book these days? I have come to depend on book excerpts, blurbs and synopses to help make my decision as to what book to read next.  Also reviews and recommendations.  Newsletters from publishers and reviewer blogs figure into my book selections too. The last thing to figure into my choice?  That would be the cover.  I still appreciate them, love to look at them, and sometimes laugh at them. They definitely add to my reading enjoyment.  But covers are no longer the major factor in choosing to buy a book that they once were for me.  At least when it comes to buying online.

Ahhhh.,,,,but get me in a bookstore for a hour or a day, then the book cover reigns supreme once again.  Like jewels sparkling at a jewelers, the covers with their different fonts, colors and graphics call out to me.  They beckon me with their promise of new horizons and mysterious strangers.  And for that, I will always be grateful for those publishers, authors, artists, and even models who have adorned book covers both past, present and future. Thanks for the memories, thanks for the hard work, and thanks for all the joy to come.  And no Fabio will never be obsolete!

Covers From My Past:

Ebook Covers I Like:

Over Used Models (see StumblingOverChaos.com – Misadventures in Stock Photography) where, like Fabio, some cover models are used over and over again, like the guy in the covers below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Link on Cover Design:  http://ilona-andrews.com/2011/09/15/cover-design

Link on Ugly Cover Contest:  http://thepassivevoice/05/2011/the-agent-as-publisher-ugly-cover-contest-winner

And about those dust jackets?  That’s our blog for another day.

Why A Series Can Make My Heart Sing!

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It’s no secret that I love books and always have.  From my earliest memories of listening to someone read to me then transitioning to being old enough to pick up a book myself to while away the time. When I was younger, my family moved around every couple of years or more as my father’s job was to evaluate school systems. While not a hardship, it’s not conducive to the young who find it hard to leave friends and special places behind again and again.  As I got older and the moving proved more stressful, I turned to books for companionship.  Books, never far from me from birth (a given with parents as educators), became my constant companions. They became my escape from reality, an acceptable form of “invisible friend”, my Harvey. I was lucky in that one of my uncles, a great uncle really, worked at Charles Scribner’s & Sons. Uncle Wade sent us boxes of books of all types and genres, most of which were too old for me (Frank Yerby, really?) and that created its own special allure, to be old enough to read all those  books!  A new goal and easily fed addiction formed early in life – I was seven by then.

Have I said that books fascinate me? It was always just a matter of minutes before I lost myself in an author’s special universe. Their characters jumped to life on their pages waving swords or crawling through tunnels, the places they created became worlds whose paths I wished to tread and on whose seas I wished to voyage. Don’t you remember picking up a book and starting to read, and thinking please, please, never let it end?  That was me, out in the woods or under a blanket in bed, book in hand, eyes shut tight and wishing with all my might for a magic wand and horses with wings.

With some books, just one book is sufficient to satisfy your need for the world the author created.  You read it and are happy to have visited there.  They were great hosts, told you a marvelous story and fed you a meal that left you full if not completely replenished. When it came time to take your leave,you wished those characters well and felt that while you have enjoyed the visit other destinations were calling and you must be off. My Friend Flicka was one. Treasure Island was another.  So was Old Yeller, Dahlgren and National Velvet and hoards of nameless books of my youth. But then there are those books whose characters became friends or heros, the worlds they lived in were places I yearned to go, each and every element necessary and magical to me at the time. Those stories had multiple books called a series! From the mundane to the mystical, I gobbled up series with all the ardor and fervor of a zealot.

For me a series meant never having to leave your favorite characters behind or the universe they inhabited.  After you finished one story, you could look forward to a new adventure, a new challenge or a new journey taken with the same beloved people/beings you met in the first book.  Sometimes the characters stayed the same, they lived in their old house, had the same friends and stayed the same age.  I am thinking Nancy Drew here with Beth, George and Ned.  And sometimes the characters grew up like those in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  But whatever the shape the narrative took, I knew that I would be visiting a familiar place but with unknown consequences. Oh the anticipation, the agony, the  time I spent daydreaming about what was to come next for my heros (of all genders and species).

Whether it was L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings , book series have been my affordable addiction. Not possible to own a herd of horses in a suburban backyard? Let’s substitute dragons for horses and scarf up Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. My parents inform me that we are southbound, going to visit the relatives again this summer. My first reaction? OK, second reaction? Hide all of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books in my suitcase to pull out at the cousins first suggestion to Dippity Do my hair and head out to the Dairy Queen. Series after series, genre after genre, my addiction grew and my bookshelves groaned.

Has my addiction to series dwindled as I have aged? Not on your life! Don’t look at me like that!  I know you have been there along with me. Haven’t you ever reached the end of a book that has kept you mesmerized from word one and wanted to scream out ‘Noooooooo, I don’t want it to end”?  Or had the characters in the latest book you were reading seem so real that the last sentence of the epilogue left you feeling bereft? Or maybe the world that came alive in between the pages was so vivid that you could smell the alien air and feel the magic in the landscape?   It still happens to me at 2 or 3 am in the morning (just like always) when I come to the end of a gripping saga I started earlier that day and never put down.  I scramble to get back to the pages in front and then in the back to see what else the author has written. If stymied, and who wouldn’t be  at that time of the morning, I turn on the computer (ok this part is new) and check for updates at their publishers or websites, never mind the dogs glaring at me because I have disturbed their sleep.  And when my search turns up that the book is a part of a series? Well, let’s just say I give the ol’ Rebel Yell a run for its money and make my Celtic ancestors proud!

Some of my favorite series?  Hard to separate them out as I have so many in different genre’s.  Mystery authors make it easy for me.  Love you Martha Grimes and Inspector Jury, same to you, P.D. James and Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, and on right to up Sarah Paretsky and her female private eye, V I Warshawski and Stieg Larsson and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Once a mystery author creates a character, a series is sure to follow.  Authors of the supernatural and fantasy are much the same.  Look at Laurell K Hamilton and Anita Blake.  Hit List is the 20th Anita Blake novel.  Or Terry Pratchett and his Disc World series that is comprised of 33 novels.  That could be a little daunting if not for the treasure that is Disc world.

Sooooo, where was I? Oh yes, my love for book series.  Today with the advent of eReaders and ePublishing, the novel and book series has never been more popular.  Especially with my m/m fiction, I have so many favorite series that I hardly know where to start.  Perhaps I will start with a series I began my m/m journey with.  That would be Carol Lynne’s Cattle Valley series, still going strong today at book no. 27. I love  Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series and Kate Steele’s Bond of the Maleri books. Can’t go wrong there.  I would wave Jet Mykles Heaven Sent series at you, can’t miss those! Or JL Langley’s With or Without series with her wolf shifters that are so hot and memorable. So many that I need to start a list.  And just look at the books I have reviewed lately.  Some of my must read series are among them: Cut and Run from Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux (now just written by Roux), Infected by Andrea Speed (I groan just thinking about Roan – snicker), the Lost Gods series by Megan Derr, the Cambridge Fellows books by Charlie Cochrane, Katey Hawthorne’s Superpowered Love series and so many more.  I feel like one of those people at an awards show with a never ending list.  I could go on and on and on while a guy in the wings gives me the signal to shut up.

So here I am all these years later and nothing has changed.  OK, yes some things have changed.  Sheesh! You think you would let a girl get by with some things…but my love of books and a series of books?  Never.  A great series still fills me with excitement and the expectation of wonderful surprises just on the horizon.  I look forward to each new twist and turn the author can think up and that I never saw coming.  I can’t wait for the paths unexplored and the roads not yet taken by characters I love on worlds new and known.  And  that is why a series makes my heart sing.

Small list of my favorite series in no particular order and yes I know I left a lot out.  Please send us your favorites:

M/M Series (3 or more books):

Promised Rock series by Amy Lane
Lost Gods series by Megan Derr (fantasy)
Conquest series (rockers) by S. J. Frost
Heaven Sent by Jet Mykles (rockers)
Adrien English Mystery series by Josh Lanyon contemporary
Cut and Run by Urban and Roux, now just Abigall Roux – contemporary
Infected series by Andrea Speed (science fiction)
Sanctuary series by RJ Scott action/adventure
Faith, Love, and Devotion series by Tere Michaels contemporary
St. Nachos series by Z.A. Maxfield contemporary
Cattle Valley by Carol Lynne cowboys contemporary
With or Without series (shifters) by JL Langley
Sci Regency series by JL Langley
Cambridge Fellows series by Charlie Cochrane
A Matter of Time series by Mary Calmes
Warder series by Mary Calmes
Home series by TC Chase
Superpowered Love series by Katey Hawthorne

and all the series I have written about this week, Infected, Cambridge Fellows, Lost Gods, Dance with the Devil, The Sanctuary series…..

Bellingham Mysteries series by Nicole Kimberling  – last day to make a comment and be entered into the book giveaway contest for Primal Red.

Review of Second Time Lucky by Ethan Day

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Rating: 5 stars

Luke Landon is spending his birthday by himself, drinking and watching all his ex boyfriends pass by him at the bar, all seemingly happy without him. As the idea of another drink gets a happy internal hell yes, he hears a voice behind him saying the words, “Put your clothes back on and get back into your vehicle. The park has now closed.”  It’s Owen West, back in his life after fifteen years apart.  Their romance in college was so hot, so all encompassing they thought it would never end until it did, neither of them really understanding why.  But now Owen is here on his birthday and they get a second chance at love, a second chance to get it right whether it be luck or fate, if they are smart enough to take the chance.

Second Time Lucky reminds me almost immediately why Ethan Day is a must read author for me.  I never think of the personas he creates for his stories as characters, more like people I love listening to and spending time with.  You know, that one friend we are always on the phone with or going out to the bar with them, listening and laughing until our stomachs hurt.  Those are Ethan Day people.  And Luke Landon is another memorable Ethan Day person.  I was grinning with anticipation as I started to read Luke’s inner running commentary on his parade of exes at the bar.  After perusing a guy with whom he had a diasterous date, Luke thinks “Don’t expect a happily-ever-after when you accidently break a man’s masturbation hand—life lesson learned.” Or

“Usually, gay men stayed on the same cycle—similar to the menstrual variety in that we did our best to avoid the achy cramps that came with running into our past failures. We instinctively knew what nights and times to avoid certain bars. It was something we normally didn’t have to work at.The same way the moon orbits the earth which in turn does the same with regard to the sun, we managed to avoid one another without needing to consciously think.”  That’s pure Ethan Day.  Funny, sarcastic, a little twisted and totally true. I could quote him all day.

Told from Luke’s pov, we are privy to all the inner workings of Luke’s mind and heart, a complicated duo if ever there was.  Luke’s upbringing and current status with his mother make romantic relationships a hard sell. With three gay ex husbands behind her, Luke’s mother is not exactly a warm and supportive mother, and Luke’s abandonment by his father is an issue still impacting his relationships, whether he acknowledges that fact or not.  Mostly not.    Everything about Luke, from his pride in his work and his loyalty to his friends, makes him someone it is easy to empathize with and understand.  And his constant inner monologue with all his insecurities front and center bubbles to the surface of each page, buoyant on its own effervescence, until it spills over everything in its path, covering all the events with a Lukas perspective, even Owen West.  I really liked Owen West, a steady, good person with his own issues.  I could also get behind his frustrations with Luke even as he understood the basis for Luke’s actions.  Yes, Owen West feels like a real person too.  So do all the characters in Second Time Lucky.  I don’t need to talk about depth and dimension because it is unnecessary.  They are that real, that authentic.

Ethan Day also has a wonderful way with settings, from Missoula, Montana and Owen’s family ranch to Middleton where Luke works and lives, it all comes to life with Day’s vivid details and small deft touches.  Second Time Lucky is that complete package, full of laughter, outright guffaws, love and as with life, heartbreaking sobs and tears.  Have your box of tissues handy.  At one point in the story, a sudden occurrence hits Luke and the reader at the same time with the same impact.  My heart hurts just thinking about it now. Everything is tied up in a wonderful ending, that will send you back to the beginning of the story to  start reading it all over again. No quibbles here, not even a twinge.  Trust me, you will love this one.  I know I did.  Great job, great story!

Cover: Cover by Winterheart Designs.  Very eye catching, very flashy.  Not sure how I feel about it, perhaps a little divided.  From one standpoint I say, yes, that’s Lucky but under all that glitz is a man with depth.  Where is that man on the cover?

Thoughts on Dust Jackets, E readers, and Women Reading Erotica

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I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about books (all right, all right, I am always thinking of books, jeesh). And I mean almost every aspect of books. Book covers, book formats, hardbacks, paperbacks, eReaders and of course, dust jackets.  My thoughts may be scattered but they are revolving around books!

My muse got rolling with Michael Dirda of The Washington Post.  He reviewed Book-Jackets: Their History, Forms, and Use by G. Thomas Tanselle (2/5/12).  Talk about a fascinating book and a must read for all book lovers.  Prior to this book, I will confess that I had not given much thought to book jackets, other than what an annoyance they were at times, and what an inadequate book marker they made.

I came to these conclusions from past experience.  I have always been tough on my books, whether it was Make Way For Ducklings or Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  As soon as I could toddle, I always had a book in hand, or under my arm, or stuffed in a bag.  Books were and still are a constant companion.  And books that had dust jackets?  Well, let’s just say the dust jackets did not hold up under such cavalier treatment.  They were always torn, edges curled under and even folded.  I used them to mark my place when my real book markers had fallen out (another blog) or I had already dog eared too many other pages in that book.  This application didn’t work too well because  I would end up dropping the book I was reading, then the dust jacket would fall off and I would lose my place once again.  Sigh.  I was a librarians nightmare!

Later on in high school and early college years, I stopped buying hardback books with their dust jackets for the most part.  To feed my addiction for fantasy and science fiction, I started buying paperbacks because I could afford those in mass quantity (think Star Trek series) and book jackets became a thing of the past for me.  Oh, there were still certain books where I bought the “expensive” version but during this time paperbacks reigned supreme.

I still have almost every book I ever bought,  except those my daughter has absconded with (and they are many)! Everything from mysteries to fantasy to science fiction to romance.  All with marvelous covers and no book jackets.  And all the worse for wear because nothing had protected them from my abuse.  OK, that’s not completely true because I just came across a lovely handmade book cover a friend had sewn for me about 15 years ago.

Enter women reading erotica.  Some of the books my friends and I were reading had covers we were too embarrassed to be seen with.  Lurid covers or lurid subject matter. For some, it was those fabulous bodice rippers that featured Fabio or others like myself, it was The Story of O ,  Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus or others of that genre.  Whatever.  So a friend sewed these wonderful book slipcovers made of leftover fabric scraps she had around the house. Voila!  Freedom to carry the books we wanted to read where ever we went.  Freedom to read whatever we wanted outside the house.  We loved it and always asked her for more as gifts and for our own use.  Later, I saw them in a local bookstore.  Others obviously had the same idea and the same need.  Much later I used these same slipcovers when I started reading m/m fiction and didn’t want to have to explain the covers.  Then came eReaders and my Kindle.

I started with eReaders because as my eyesight worsened, I needed to be able to adjust the font size. Also, if I wanted to read my m/m fiction I needed to acquire eBooks as not all were available in print.  I started reading eBooks on my computer but as it is a desktop, reading in bed just isn’t the same or even possible.  So I finger skipped my way over to Amazon, bought my Kindle, and started a love affair that continues to this day. We have our ups (oodles of m/m books) and downs (the removal of some GLBT books from their inventory, since restored) but love it I do. Thanks, Yoda.

Soooooooooo imagine my surprise when recently I was watching my local Channel 4 (WRC) news and they did a segment on publishers of romance/erotica and the affect eReaders have on their sales.  The big news?  That more women are buying and reading erotica because of their eReaders.  That the sales of erotica have skyrocketed due to eBooks and eReaders.  Why?  The same reason I once had covers for my paperbacks. Freedom.  Freedom from embarrassment, freedom from questions, and freedom from others disapproval. This includes the freedom from comments such as “I think it’s disgusting that women are reading porn.”  That reaction came from a man stopped on the streets as a part of the segment.  Yikes.  But I will bet my favorite Adam Levine picture that same man has a Playboy or porn somewhere at his house. *shakes head*

Are eReaders the new cover jackets?  In a way.  The older dust jackets protected the covers and bindings of the books, kept them from growing faded or soiled.  The front cover of the dust jacket also helped advertise the story within, promoted the author and advertised the publisher. A printed book without its dust jacket loses its value, not so the eBook.

A eReader stores books electronically.  A eBook won’t fade, it’s bindings won’t break, and its pages will never tear. A eReader also functions in just the same manner as plain dust jacket or my later cloth versions did, it helps hide the book from sight and the judgement or derision of others.  Ereaders, whether it be Kindle, Nook or other device are here to stay and so are eBooks to the chagrin of some and absolute joy of others, including myself.

Have I given up my books in print?  No and I never will.  I love the feel of a book in my hands.  I love a afternoon or day spent in a used book store trolling for treasures.  I love my bookshelves filled with old friends and adventures.  I love the way books smell.  Books are a true cornucopia for the soul, overflowing with feelings, textures, memories, and emotions.  My eReader doesn’t replace that, it just adds to it.  I no longer need my book jackets, fabric covers, or the anonymity that the eREaders offer.  But others do, if only to save them from derision and judgements like the guy quoted on the news.

So here’s to eBooks, eReaders, and all the authors (published or self published), and publishers.    For all the wonderful stories, all the great adventures, all the memorable characters in every genre under the sun and beyond. My thanks and a tip of the old wine glass to you.  I wouldn’t make it through the day without you. (And yes, I am thinking fondly of those book jackets.  I may have to go and dust a few off).

Book available from Oak Knoll Press http://www.oakknoll.com/bookimag/107173.jpg