Beach Reading at its Best

You can’t please all of the people all of the time, and old sage once said. And you can’t be all things to all people. Books are like that too. No book, no matter how brilliant or witty or marvelously written it may be, can appeal to everyone.

That’s because we are often looking for different things at different times. Sometimes we want serious fiction, sometimes humour. Or you may be in the mood for something light and fluffy. Mindless escapism. Crime drama. Or a spy drama. Or a steamy romance. Fun-filled adventure. To help the reader find the sort of book they are looking for, books are classified into different genres, and within each genre are categories and subcategories.

‘Hard’ sci-fi or ‘soft’?

Take, for example, my own specialty: sci-fi. Within that broad genre there’s serious “hard” sci-fi. One of the key promises within that category is that it will stay within the boundaries of real science. The Martian is an excellent example of this. All the science and technology portrayed in that novel is real and current. Then there is space opera. In space opera you get to make up your own science, and use fantastical made-up things like worm holes, time travel, warp drives, alien civilizations, and so on. Star Wars and Star Trek are very obvious examples of this genre.

A good book, regardless of its genre and category, will deliver on the promise that’s inherit within its category. And publishers put a lot of time and effort into coming up with titles and covers for books that will give customers a good feel for what can be expected between the covers.

Judging a books’ intention by its cover

I think my publisher, Franklin Street Press, did a great job coming up with the covers and titles for the two books (to date) in my Jack Winters Detective Series, which is about Jack’s friendship with alien coffee smugglers who have come to Earth looking for coffee.

I think the covers and titles of my books make it pretty obvious – there’s nothing series here folks. This is not ‘hard’ sci-fi. I’m all about mindless escapism, frankly. I get enough “serious” drama from my day job and reading the news.

Looking for ‘hard’ sci-fi in all the wrong places

But there’s just no pleasing some people. No matter how brilliantly witty the title and cover of a book may be in accurately portraying what a reader might expect between the front and back cover, some people still manage to get it wrong.

Recently a reviewer on Amazon criticized “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte” for not being very plausible. I kid you not. This reviewer also said that as sci-fi, it was a bit too “soft”. Now, that’s funny. Was this reviewer seriously expecting “hard” sci-fi with a plausible, realistic story line when they picked a book with a title like this, featuring an alien holding a steaming cup of coffee?

Hmmm…

Space Opera

Relaxing, humorous, and definitely not ‘hard’ sci-fi.

I wonder what his first hint was that this wasn’t hard science? Perhaps it was the cover with the picture of an alien holding a cup of coffee? Or was it the title, “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte”? Or maybe it dawned on him in chapter 21, when Aunt Beatrice complains about alien visitors landing their spaceship in her cabbage patch. I don’t know, but it’s hard to grasp how anyone could pick up a novel with such a title and cover and expect anything other than fun-filled escapism.

A good book delivers on its promise

I don’t mind being judged on the basis of what my books are intended to be. But being criticized for something the book was never intended for is just plain silly. He may as well criticize my book for not having any good recipes for baked lasagna.

I think my novels deliver exactly what you might expect from the kind of covers and titles I’m using. There’s no subterfuge here. It’s beach reading escapism at its best. I like to think of my novels as modern day dime novels. Fun filled adventures in space.

We all need to take a break to recharge and relax

We often turn to forms of entertainment to relax, recharge, and take a break from the seriousness of work and daily life. Dime novels came into vogue during the American Civil War, arguably some of the darkest years of the country. People needed a break from the horrible news, and TV hadn’t been invented yet. Dime novels provided an affordable form of escapism. During the depression people snapped up cheap “pulp” fiction and went to the movies. They needed the break.

That’s what myself and other authors writing similar books are trying to do. Provide light-hearted escapism. We need it these days. I can’t remember a time when the news was so consistently depressing and awful on so many different fronts.

If you are looking for light-hearted escapism, you’ve come to the right place. If you want serious, hard sci-fi with “plausible” story lines, that’s not what I do. You won’t find it here.

That’s my rant for the day.

Wordle in 1!

I finally got the coveted Wordle in 1!

On May 4, the Wordle answer for the day was TRAIN. Fun fact, it was also the word of the day for a Wordle spin-off, Canuckle. I did Canuckle first, and got it in 3. Then I turned to Wordle, and thought, what the heck. May as well use TRAIN as my starting word. And BAM! My first and only time getting Wordle in 1.

You have to be a Wordle addict to appreciate the excitement, but I rode that high all day!

May 4. Wordle in 1

Canuckle Answer for the Day. What’s Your Best Guess?

It’s official, I’m a Canuckle nerd (nerdle?). In today’s blog I’m fully coming to terms with that realization and finally admitting it to myself. My wife is already planning to have friends and family over later tonight for an intervention.

Since I got hooked on Canuckle a couple of months ago, I started keeping a private list of words that I think are very good candidates for future Canuckle answers. In today’s blog, I’m posting that list for other Canuckle addicts out there. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Maybe we could start having meetings in church basements…

I claim no insider knowledge. This list is simply what I believe to be likely candidates for future Canuckle answers since they have a Canadian flavour and theme to them.

I will, from time to time, update this list with new words that occur to me, and strike through the words that get used as the answer for the day. A couple of these words are my favorite starting words, and I’m excited for the day when I hit upon the right answer on the first guess. That hasn’t happened yet, but I have solved Canuckle 11 times in just two guesses.

The Real Answer History Archive

Just in case you’ve been missing out, I’m also maintaining an up-to-date list of past Canuckle Answers, starting with the very first puzzle back in February 2022.

If you are a fellow Canuckle nerd and have some favorite starting words of your own, drop me a line and let me know if you find this list helpful. Or let me know if you have some words that should be added.

Words that are struck-through have been the puzzle answer since I started maintaining this list.

GREATPINESPOLAR
BUCKSCEDARGRILL
PIZZATREESEARTH
FRESHBEANSDUCKS
CRANEGRAINSKIIS
RANGEFISHYMILLS
SLOPEFUELSBREAD
SNOWSWATERFLOUR
HURONPLAINBANKS
STEELRIVERFOXES
SPACEAPPLEHERON
BEACHGRAPESPUDS
MOUNTGEESEHORSE
RANCHMAIZEEAGLE
COATSMISTSTRAIL
ACORNBROCKTRUCK
BRANTTEPEETRACK
DEERSGROWSDONUT
HUSKYROOTSTOONY
MUSKYFORTSCREAM
WOODSTRAINRADIO
PROUDPUCKSHYDRO
BEASTCRAZYVOTES
GOATSFORCESALTY
BOATSFROSTPLOWS
SHIPSFROZEROYAL
LOONYCREAMCIDER
STANDSTOCKSTEAK
HIKERLOCKSCREEK
HONEYMUSICMEDAL
METALFRESHCABIN
MINESALIEN
Expected Canuckle Word Game Answers

A little coffee humor to lighten your day

The first thing I do when I get out of bed is head downstairs into the kitchen and start the coffee. And then I stand there and wait for enough coffee to appear in the carafe to pour a cup. Fortunately my coffee maker has a ‘pause ‘n pour’ feature, otherwise it would get rather messy.

In nice weather I’ll take my coffee and laptop outside to the back deck and listen to the birds while writing or reading the news. Unfortunately in Canada the weather is crap 9 months of the year, in which case I go into the living room, turn on the gas fireplace, and sit next to the fire.

I can’t imagine starting the day without coffee. I’m not sure how non-coffee drinkers do it, but I think the government should fund a research program to study them and find an answer to that question which perplexes all the rest of us normal human beings.

I find it very relaxing to make humorous memes, especially if they are coffee related. Kind of goes with the territory when your ‘thing’ is escapist adventures featuring coffee loving alien smugglers.

Here are links to the humor pictures I’ve made over the years.

Some previous humour posts.

Have a great day.

UFOs are just aliens looking for a good cup of coffee

Do aliens like coffee? We think so! What intelligent being wouldn’t? As readers of my blog and fans of my novels have long suspected, UFOs are aliens just looking for coffee. For years, I’ve been the lone voice in the literary wilderness pointing this out to anyone who would listen, and writing a few novels about it. But now other serious writers are beginning to take notice. Joe Queenan, well-known columnist for the prestigious Wall Street Journal no less, has come around and now agrees. They’re here, and they’re looking for coffee.

The Wall Street Journal Finally Agrees With Me

In a recent WSJ column, “Are UFOs Just Aliens Looking for a Cup of Coffee?”, Joe Queenan argues this very point. And we think this is good news, because it means UFOs probably do NOT have hostile intentions or planning an invasion. If the aliens are just looking for coffee, then logic dictates they are nice, peaceful, intelligent and witty, because in my experience human coffee lovers are nice, peaceful, intelligent and witty. We prefer to sit and visit while sharing great coffee over interesting conversation, rather than invade foreign countries – much less attack someone else’s planet.

Now, the more cynical among us may argue the opposite. Since, to the best of our knowledge, Earth is the only known planet in the galaxy that can grow coffee, might not aliens be tempted to take us over? As their logic goes, the very fact aliens are coming to Earth might mean they’re planning an invasion so they can get their hands on our coffee.

But I don’t think so. Alien visitors are likely to be intelligent – after all they’ve managed to invent UFOs that can travel trillions of miles through space to get here. If they are smart enough to do that, they are smart enough to realize it’s much cheaper to simply buy the coffee from us rather than attack.

Planetary invasions can get pretty expensive.

Buying a Cup of Coffee is Cheaper Than Planetary Invasions

Do the math – it’s not all that hard. How much is a pound of coffee? My local grocery store carries it for anywhere from $5 to $10 a pound. I usually spend $20 on premium Rwandan coffee from a roaster here in town. It’s much cheaper – and quicker, by the way – to go shopping than it would be to invade Rwanda.

As a matter of fact, as I write this at 5 o’clock on a Friday morning, I’m getting low on coffee. And I think I’ll simply go see my local roaster and spend $20, rather than launch a military assault on an African nation at the cost of several millions of dollars (not that I have several millions, I’m just trying to make a point). If I can figure this math out, I’m pretty sure any alien astronaut can as well.

They Are Here for the Coffee

I feel confident our alien visitors have come to much the same conclusion. And the proof? Well – they haven’t invaded yet and apparently they’ve been visiting us for decades, at least since the 1950s when people started to notice UFOs, and have yet to take hostile action. If they were going to invade, I think they would have done so by now.

And what did it cost the US to invade Afghanistan? 1.2 trillion dollars! If it cost that much to invade a little country right here on Earth a mere 8,000 miles away, think of the cost to invade an entire planet across the galaxy. For an alien visitor, wouldn’t it just make more sense to come to Earth peacefully, find a human willing to trade, and spend the $5 to $20 dollars a pound?

And it would be much more pleasant for both the aliens and humans involved. They could sit down, enjoy a nice cup of coffee while comparing notes on our respective cultures. Launching military invasions is no way to make friends. A pleasant cultural exchange is much nicer than shooting at each other.

As readers of my popular novels have long suspected…

Let’s hope the Pentagon is paying attention. If the American military brass realize that UFOs are really friendly aliens just looking for a cup of coffee, and not to invade, then they are much less likely to start shooting.

Another ‘staying sane in lockdown’ blog post

What are you doing to keep your sanity these days? We are just coming out of our third lockdown… (only two more lockdowns now until Christmas.) Restaurants can have patio seating, but still no indoor seating. Stores can now have limited numbers of people inside. So it’s a little better now, and most people have had their first vaccine shot – so things are looking up and maybe we are getting to the end of it. (I’m trying hard not to think of the new variants coming out. Eyes shut, ears covered, and I’m humming ‘nah,nah,nah,nah…’ to myself).

As those who have been following my blog will know, a favorite theme I’ve mine over the last 15 months is “staying sane in quarantine.” It’s about the various hobbies and other things I do to keep my sanity. I’m writing novels, of course. And blogging, which I find relaxing. And I’ve taken up cooking: I learned to bake apple turnovers a couple weeks ago, from scratch! I even made the pastry.

And I continue to do metal work. I forged this pair of fire pit tongs last week, for moving burning logs around.

Fire pit tongs forged from a truck leaf spring

I forged these tongs from the leaf spring of an F150 pickup truck. My wife came up with the idea one night while sitting around a campfire with the grandkids a couple weeks ago. We were roasting hotdogs and making s’mores, and my wife was struggling to rearrange some burning logs, when she said to me: “You know honey, we probably don’t need anymore homemade forged knives, as awesome as they are. The 87 you made, which are now filling up our kitchen drawers, are likely sufficient for our needs for the foreseeable future. But if you really feel like forging, we could use some fire pit tongs.”

I took the hint and had fun making them.

Having a pair of fire pit tongs made from a pickup truck is pretty awesome, not to mention manly. The ends of the tongs come together so they can be used to pickup small burning sticks and coals, as well as large logs.

We’ve all been doing different things to cope as best we can. I love to write, and I can write for hours at a time and not notice the time go by. But after sitting all day with the laptop, I enjoy getting out to the shop and hammering on hot metal.

For some interesting hobby ideas, visit my other website michaelmanto.com where I go into great detail on this fun hobby.

Thanks for stopping by to visit my blog. Stay safe, and above all, stay sane!

My New Time-travel Adventure is Here!

The girl from the future…

What does a girl do when she can’t tell anyone where she’s really from?

I’m excited about my latest novel – a fun blend of love, romance, dystopian future and time travel. It’s about Octavia, a woman from a dystopian future who has traveled back in time to our own day. She’s here on a mission: study us and learn how we lived prior to a deadly plague that almost destroys human life and brings on the dystopian world she grew up in.

Octavia never had a family, never knew a mother or father – she was raised on a eugenics farm by robots and impersonal guardians. She arrives in our time and meets Jake, the loving single father of an 11-year old girl, and it’s not long before they fall in love. For the first time in her life, Octavia becomes part of a real family. But she can never tell Jake that she’s from the future – how could he possibly believe it? And that’s not the only secret she has to keep from him.

But falling in love was not part of her mission plan, and the secrets she carries about herself and the terrible future awaiting them soon threaten to tear them apart.

I actually started writing this in 2016, thinking it would be fun to write a story about a world-wide pandemic and time-travel. I finished it prior to 2020 under a different title, and then covid-19 broke out. When covid-19 hit, I no longer felt like promoting a novel about a plague. Reading and writing stories about an apocalypse is fun until it starts to feel like you are really in one. So I shelved the project for a while.

In early 2021 I dusted it off and re-read it, and sent it to an editor for professional proof reading. I like the story and now that it looks like we are getting to the end of the covid-19 pandemic I feel good about publishing it.

It’s a fun, clean read with a feel-good ending. I’m a huge believer in happy endings… I mean, why read a book that leaves you depressed. I can go to CNN for that.

I hope you like reading the book as much as I liked writing it. Drop me a line and let me know what you think.

Available on Amazon

Octavia Seven Book Review

Staying Sane in Quarantine

The Writer

We just got through a period of roughly 3 months of almost complete lockdown in which we were barely able to leave the house. Recently things have gotten better. In my province, Ontario, they’ve allowed restaurants to re-open, and just last week I sat inside a restaurant for the first time in 4 months. But we still need to be careful, and medical authorities are already warning of a second wave. We might be subject to another lockdown come the fall or winter.

Knowing how to maintain your sanity has become a vital new life-skill in 2020, and not everyone is coping so well.

How do you stay sane while in quarantine during a pandemic? I’ve kept my sanity with hobbies, two of my favorites being: writing novels and making knives.

This is a knife I forged from steel cable, using deer antler, brass and leather for the handle.

As much as I love the creative process of writing, it has one serious drawback: it involves sitting down at a laptop, which is essentially what I do for a living all day long. I’m a Project Manager at a large financial services company, in which I spend most of my day on the phone with my laptop in virtual meetings. It had always been a dream of mine to write a novel, and I’ve spent the last fourteen years getting up between 4 and 5 AM to put in a couple of hours writing before going to work. People look at me like I’m crazy, but that’s what you have to do if you’re serious about writing. It’s worth it and I feel really proud of my writing. To-date I’ve completed 7 full length novels.

And I’m glad I’m pursuing that dream, but I also needed to find something that got me on my feet, is physical and hands-on and kept me in shape (more-or-less). Gym memberships never worked for me, even before Covid-19 made them unwise. I’ve tried them several times and I’ve always found it too boring to keep up, and they are not a viable option during a pandemic.

What I needed was something physical that wouldn’t bore me to death, and keep me interested enough to stand and use my muscles for hours. So in the summer of 2016 I started another hobby – knife making.

I forge them by hand from raw hunks of high carbon steel. It seems to be working. One hot Saturday in the summer, I rolled my forge and anvil out into the backyard under a shade tree and spent the entire day forging.

I was in complete bliss, and lost almost 10 pounds. It was in that moment that I realized I’d found something that holds my interest enough to keep me physically active for hours at a time.

I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I made my own forge out of an old barbeque I found abandoned at the side of the road. For an anvil I use an old piece of railroad track that was given to me. Some good files and a couple of heavy hammers, and that’s basically all you need to get started.

The knife I made pictured below won’t win any prizes for beauty, but I had a lot of fun forging it.

I forged this knife from a car leaf spring. A piece of the leaf spring it came from is shown above it. The handle wood is from an old horse yoke that was left on the wall of our den by the previous owner when we moved into our house.

It’s important to have interesting hobbies when you are stuck at home self-isolating. Forging steel may not be your thing, but you could try baking bread. Take up cooking. Learn to sow and make masks. Take up carpentry. Start blogging or write that novel you’ve always wanted to. All these things have become huge since the pandemic. In my area stores can’t keep flour in stock because of the numbers of people who’ve taken up baking. I see that as a very positive thing. Stay safe and above all, stay sane!

Blogs for Coffee Lovers

Best Blogs for Coffee

As one might suspect, with novels such as “Aliens, Spaceships and the Occasional Latte”, and “Coffee to Go, With a Spaceship”, that I rather like coffee. I don’t think that should come as too much of a surprise.

In today’s post I thought I’d share links to some of my favorite coffee related blogs. Sometimes it’s just really nice to ignore the news, Facebook, Twitter and anything else on the internet that can get too serious, and go to a website to relax and read about something you enjoy without having to hear anything about pandemics, Trump, US Presidential elections, economical calamities, financial collapse, or Justin Bieber.

And 2020 is still only half over, but we won’t talk about that right now …

Not that I don’t take what’s happening seriously. I do. But sometimes we all need a mental break. So here are some good coffee blogs, carefully screened to exclude anyone who might be tempted to talk about Trump. I’ll be updating this list from time to time.

Roasting Coffee Beans at Home for Beginners. This article explains how to roast beans at home without special equipment, using a pan on the stove top, or in the oven, or using a popcorn machine. An excellent all-around article for the beginner who wants to try roasting without making a big investment in equipment.

Oddfellows Coffee Roasters. Small craft roaster specializing in beans imported from farms owned and operated by women in Central America. Ryan’s Honduran dark roast is fruity and full-flavoured, yet smooth and low in acid.

Paris Coffee Roasters. A specialty micro roaster, offering dark and medium roasts of beans from Oaxaca Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Steve has been roasting for 18 years, and has learned how to bring out the best in every bean. His dark roast from Oaxaca is very popular with its creamy caramel and chocolate notes.

The Bean Ground Coffee gear buying guide and reviews. If you’re shopping for anything related to your favorite addiction, this is a good place to start. Also, good indepth info on coffee beans.

The Coffee Channel. A great all-round website for coffee lovers, with reviews, blogs, buying guides and recipes all about coffee. They also have a list of what they consider the best coffee blogs.

I Love Coffee. This is a fun website that focuses on coffee related humour, coffee quotes and fun infographics about the world’s greatest beverage.

Brewed Coffee. As they say in their About Us – “We are All about Coffee, including coffee news, tips, recipes, and more!”

The Coffee Hunters Journal These folks search the world for the perfect bean!

Have a great day and stay safe!

** Updated May 23, 2021