Monthly Archives: December 2014

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden

By Kate Morton.
Like The House at Riverton, this novel’s twists at the end aren’t too surprising. But like Riverton, this book isn’t read for the twists or surprises…it’s read for the complexity of the characters and how different lives intertwine.
I find it interesting that two of this author’s works focus on lost family histories. The marketing talks about secrets, and there are plenty of secrets in this. But that’s not the real point behind this exploration. It’s about reclaiming what was lost to different generations by those secrets.
Lives, even my own, are impacted when family members decide to not discuss some event or element of their histories. Generations are changed by those choices. It seems like it’s for the greater good but in the end, it leaves people with less. Even when they don’t know what’s missing, they know something isn’t there.
The author gives us a very satisfying ending by providing answers for the quest of her characters. In this case, two generations are required to unearth the fullness of their own histories. Really a very well told story that I enjoyed.
The only flaw was the number of point of view characters. In combination with the time shifts, it made the opening section (about 100 pages) more difficult to follow at times. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded.
Want to read more fiction like this? Try Message Stick, a novel of generations lost and found in unlikely places.
4 stars!


Eliminate 3 Things That Sabotage Your Writing Time

I’ve been an author and book editor for twenty years. After working with thousands of authors, I’ve found the top three things that sabotage writing time. Luckily, I’ve also learned how to eliminate them!
1. The Business Called Busyness. Busyness is horrible. It feels like we’re doing something, that we’re taking care of business in our lives, but really we’re just engaged in busywork. The next time you find yourself vaccuuming or on social media instead of writing, make a choice. What is more important to you? A new page or a new post?
2. What Will Mama Think? OK, maybe you’re not worried about what your mother will think of what you’re writing. But you might be concerned about how your friends will react to that X-rated sex scene or the serial killer plot you’ve put together. Don’t worry about what Mama thinks. Write what’s true to the story. Trust me, everyone will love you for it.
3. Chapter 5 Doesn’t Track with Chapter 1. So what? Fix it later. For now, just write. Keep a separate notepad beside your computer and jot down things you have to go back and fix. While you’re in the flow state, don’t interrupt that flow with all those logical nags the judge in your mind sends up. Make a note and keep writing.

Book Review: A Reliable Wife

By Robert Goolrick.
This was the first book I’ve read by Goolrick. Based onother reviews I’ve seen, it looks like a love it or hate it kind of book.
I can understand why. The characters have a lot of complications…they want one thing and do something to confound their own goals. And then they repeat their mistakes endlessly, as proven by their pasts.
But this book isn’t entrenched in their pasts. It follows them step by painful step as they enact more mistakes, knowing they are mistakes, and then try to correct course despite the pain those corrections will cause.
A very nuanced look at people who have done some terrible things to cause pain to others and themselves, and their efforts to finally, before it is too late, make something right. Even if it’s a small thing, even if it’s already too late.
And that makes for a novel that is well worth reading.
4 stars!
Like this book? Try He Drinks Poison, a thrilling and complex examination of dark impulses. A sensual read that brings light into the darkness.

Book Review: Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

This is one of those books that, when you finish the last page, you say, “Wow.” The emotional pull of the protagonist’s journey really is that strong.
I read this as a review copy provided by the publisher (ebook only). I liked it from the first page. Yes, the protagonist is not the most likeable guy in the beginning…but that is a critical element to the plot as it unfolds. And there is enough sarcasm (which I truly enjoy) in what he says and thinks to make the reading enjoyable no matter how much you dislike the guy.
It turns out that his dislike of others creates problems for him as a doctor. It’s kind of like that black humor police officers and emergency workers develop because they have to. With a darker twist, yes, and one that is worth reading deeply to understand his view.
The story provides plenty of character development before the tragic event his daughter suffers, all with enough hints at the events to come to keep you moving forward in the narrative. When it finally happens, there is a chaotic reaction on his part and by the people around him. The other characters have also been ramping up the chaos before the event even happens, so when it strikes, the impact is all the more severe.
The true payoff for readers comes when the protagonist responds…in various ways…to the event. He and his wife take one track to help the daughter while the father works on his own in different ways to find justice. In the end, he doesn’t truly find justice but he does create his own. The justice he creates makes peace for himself, his family, and others.
This is a well-drawn portrait of a father-daughter relationship. It’s a story for today in so many ways. For the reader who understands that not all characters are likeable, Summer House provides a rich payoff.
5 stars!
Want more fiction that tackles violence against women? Try He Drinks Poison.

Book Review: The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

There were times while I was reading this that I thought perhaps the vast amount of history could have been cut. A thousand-page novel…really? When is that actually necessary?
Well, it is for this book.
I had also thought at times that the dialog could have been trimmed up for pacing. But then I also considered that the author was handling the dialog that way for a purpose, and that eventually the purpose would be revealed. It was, in the last 100 pages when the protagonist retreats to his sister’s house and spends a bizarre few weeks there in isolation.
So, the two elements that I thought maybe could have been trimmed in the end revealed themselves as masterworks by the author. I don’t want to say much more because, despite this being 1,000 pages long, there’s actually not much I can detail without providing spoilers.
Know this one thing: The most important revelation comes literally with the last sentence. The entire work…how the history is handled, that dialog, the protagonist’s journey through the war as well as his personal events…all come together in that single masterful last sentence.
This is a brilliant novel. Well worth the dedication to read all 1,000 pages.
5 stars!
Another novel that works with historic evil is Message Stick, a contemporary novel that reveals how the Australian government tried to destroy Aboriginal culture in a near genocide.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

I only got to page 80. There just wasn’t enough meat to hold me. By meat I mean character development and descriptive details. Usually you see less of that in YA books but this one was just bare bones, and thin bones at that. No real understanding of who the character is, and the descriptions of the individual events weren’t drawn well enough to hold my interest until the character really began to develop. And by page 80, one of those things should be well enough drawn to pull readers forward…that wasn’t the case here.
1 star.

Book Review: Stolen by Lucy Christopher

A debut YA novel that is exceptional in so many ways. When Gemma is kidnapped while traveling with her parents, she is swept from England to the Australian outback by a man who has stalked her for years. The novel is written as an extensive letter crafted by Gemma to her kidnapper, and is especially thoughtful, poignant, and compelling perhaps because of the letter’s sharp and cutting intimacy.
Although Gemma first hates both her kidnapper Ty and the outback, she slowly warms to both. Part of this is through the wearing down of her defenses that are so typical among kidnap victims (even the narrative discusses the Stockholm effect wherein victims begin to identify with their captors). More importantly, though, this wearing away comes from Gemma’s reflections on her situation and her own past.
The outback offers beauty to those who look. I know this personally because I spent six months camping alone in the outback; as a woman, everyone thought I was crazy or bold to the point of suicidal. But the journey was spiritual, and much of Gemma’s journey resonates with my own lessons.
Too, Gemma considers how she never really appreciated her parents or their love when she had everything. Stripped away from them, she recognizes that she was blind to what they had to offer. As she explores both the beauty of the outback and the very real pain Ty suffered before he began to stalk her, she matures in a way few people will unless they too suffer intense trauma.
This novel has much to offer. From the way it is written to the storyline itself, it’s well worth the time for YA and adult readers alike.
5 stars!
For more on the outback and its depth, try Message Stick, a novel that won two national awards, or Seven Sisters: Spiritual Messages from Aboriginal Australia, which pairs Aboriginal dreamtime tales with essays on what these ancient stories can teach modern people.

7 Ways to Make an Agent or Publisher Say Yes!

Traditional publishing is growing again. Sales are up, ebooks have become another channel rather than the death of books, and disruption is creating beneficial changes. Here are 7 ways to make an agent or publisher say, “Yes!” to your manuscript.
1. Write a fantastic manuscript. Tap into your passion and write something that relates to that. You’ll produce a much better manuscript that way.
2. Run the manuscript through beta readers. Use your writer’s group, friends who are readers and writers, or a professional editor to spot those critical flaws you’ve missed because you’re too close to the story.
3. Create a professional query letter (see Dec 18 post for more).
4. Create supporting submission materials. For a nonfiction book, this is a book proposal. For fiction, this means a bio that includes your platform, a synopsis, and an overview of marketing opportunities the author can fulfill. Juvenile fiction and nonfiction needs an author bio as well as an overview of current trends, additional books from the author, and marketing opportunities.
5. Contact the right agent or publisher for your project. Rather than blasting out hundreds of emails, select one agent or publisher every day to contact. You’ll also save yourself time in the long run and eliminate a lot of frustration.
6. Approach agents before you approach publishers. Once you’ve submitted to a publisher, agents generally can’t resubmit on your behalf. A rejection is a rejection in the minds of the publisher. Don’t sink your agent’s ability to represent you to their full network before you even begin. Help an agent say yes by letting them do their job.
7. Keep moving foward. Mention your next project…then stay busy with it while you wait to hear back.

Book Review: The House at Riverton

By Kate Morton.
This book was a total surprise to me. I really don’t go for historical fiction that meanders about with too much emphasis on the tawdry social fights that go on between the upstairs/downstairs set.
This work entirely upset my expectations. I was more than happy to read further and further into this work. Some other reviewers have dinged it for poor storytelling…I believe they are dissatisfied with the pacing. The pace is appropriate for this story, and pays off very well for the reader who wants to dive deep into a character’s nuances.
That was the most enjoyable part of this work. The twists at the end weren’t so surprising to me but as an author, that’s not unusual. Besides, this work isn’t really read for it’s twists. It’s read for the nuances and subtle (and yes, often not-so-subtle) impacts into various lives of different events.
I truly, truly liked this novel. So much so that I went right away to another of the same author’s books. Very well done and worth the time to slow down your reading pace and walk with these people.
4 stars!

Book Review: Heading Out to Wonderful

By Robert Goolrick.
I read this right after finishing Goolrick’s first book, A Reliable Wife. This one was just as well written. Very nuanced characters, none of whom are perfect and all of whom are reaching for something more in their lives. The fact that the something more is really just a little happiness makes it all the more compelling.
The event that ends the story of the two lovers wasn’t entirely to my liking. Not because I don’t like what happened; I’m just not sure it was the right move for these characters. Perhaps with more reflection on the small town community, which can be overly familiar, I will change my mind. But the final event was abrupt in terms of storytelling. Then again, violence of this type always is abrupt, so perhaps I was too influenced by the pace of the story to be prepared for the final event.
At any rate, another excellent novel from Goolrick.
4 stars!

Book Review: The Scavengers by Michael Perry

This middle-grade novel is a fun romp with the love of family and responsibility thrown in. After the country’s population must decide whether they will live inside or outside protective, regimented walls that will control resources, Maggie and her family scrounge for their daily needs outside the Bubble Cities. Life is tough but full with two parents who love her and a special-needs younger brother who delights her and who is her best companion.
But all is not well. Maggie’s father, for one, spends increasingly longer periods with the ghostly humans who are addicted to a sludge-like compound they brew out of leftover chemicals. The corporate conglomerate that grows genetically enhanced corn on much of the good soil outside the cities prevents the outsiders from benefiting from the acres of food. When Maggie comes home to find her family gone and their house ransacked, she must untangle the secrets her parents have hidden from her all her life.
Plenty of action runs throughout this book and the stakes are real. Maggie must grow up quickly, and rounds up her neighbors to help. But truly the only person who can save her family is Maggie herself. She sets off on a cross-country adventure that ends with her facing down nothing less than the government of the bubble cities.
My only complaint with this story was how some information was worked into the text. Dialog was used to convey information that might “educate” readers on various topics, many of which weren’t related to the story or characters. I was greatly turned off by this kind of thing when I was a young reader and I can’t imagine that today’s young readers are much different. But that didn’t take too much away from the plot so the rating here is still high.
This book was received through a giveaway on Literary Rambles. The blog runs frequent giveaways for a variety of books publishers provide the blog as ARCs. Check them out today at
5 stars for the book and Literary Rambles!

5 Secrets Authors Need to Know About Amazon’s Book Sale Algorithms

Self-publishing is a huge undertaking. Understanding how book sales platforms work is critical, and because Amazon sells more books than any other platform, understanding how Amazon works is critical. Here are five things every author needs to know about the company.
1. Free does not count the same as a sale. When you give your book away for free on Amazon, the algorithms count it differently than an actual sale. This means your book will need many more free downloads to rise in the rankings and most of Amazon’s lists.
2. If you have set up your book on any platform other than Amazon’s, you will not be able to directly control the price of the book. You set the retail price only. Amazon decides when to discount it and how much of a discount to offer.
3. After a sale or giveaway that includes many distributors, track your book’s price on Amazon. They often do not restore the original price right away, leaving your book at a sale price for longer periods than you’d planned. Note, too, that they have the ability to leave it at that sale price, including free, forever.
4. If you have a short-term sale that shoots your book up Amazon’s rankings, you will see a very sharp drop-off after the sale. Be prepared for this to happen and continue your marketing efforts over time.
5. Multiple sales spikes, even small ones, are given more weight than single-day or week-long spikes. For best results, spread your efforts out over time. Each smaller sales spike will benefit your book more in the long term than one short, exponential spike.

Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I gave this a try. I approached it because it is written from the viewpoint of a woman who is degenerating, which is unusual for fiction dealing with this ailment. I also was very interested in the author’s approach, to show her degenerating slowly after having a successful career based on her ability to work with very high concepts.
The writing has weaknesses in areas that I just can’t tolerate. The use of dialog to provide information that would be better provided in narrative form is the primary issue. Using dialog to dump data really slows the pace, and it takes away from the internal development of individual characters. I found this too much of an issue to move beyond and so stopped reading after a short time.
1 star.

Book Review: The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant

Fantastic story. This book follows a woman’s life from her youth when she used clothes to define an identity she couldn’t otherwise develop through her efforts to locate the past that was hidden from her by her parents. A great introspective work on what people find acceptable, why they might reject their relatives, and who they turn out to be themselves in the end.
The writing is lovely, spare yet with a style that touches on the emotions and turmoil of this woman at different life stages. And she does find herself in the end through some very interesting moves that force her parents to confront what they hid for so long.
5 stars!

Book Review: The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson

Read about 30 pages but wasn’t impressed with the writing or the character development. It was well written in terms of how words are laid out on the page but there wasn’t really much compelling development of the characters. That’s a critical flaw in the opening pages.
I suppose if you like stories that focus on a family’s history you might enjoy this. But I didn’t find enough to hold me long.
In some ways, I’m surprised it won an award…and in others I’m not surprised. Literary contests can pick works that meander or where nothing happens, holding the prose over the story or what it might provide for a reader in terms of messaging or experience. So perhaps you have to read the first 100 pages before things really come clear.
1 star.