Monthly Archives: December 2014

Book Review: While the Gods Were Sleeping

By Erwin Mortier
This work is and isn’t about World War I. Helena, writing journal after journal as an elderly woman cared for by one harsh homecare nurse and one loving homecare nurse, first shows readers what her life has become. Then we see how life was before the war…comfortable, pleasant, and in many ways a mirror image of the nurturing kindness the elderly Helena receives from the kind caregiver.
Not until long into the book does Helena finally turn to the wartime events. This is in part because the visitation of the fighting on her country was so terrible, she has difficulty coming to terms with it even at this late date. But she is driven to do so…not because she believes the journals will leave some lasting legacy; in fact, she tells the caretaker to distribute them at whim, and shows herself to be as unattached to them as falling leaves in the wind.
Really, she is writing for herself. She needs to retrieve from the mud that swallowed so many men dead and alive some understanding of what this monster was and how it changed her and her country. The sweep is epic yet is told from such a close and intimate understanding of one woman’s life that readers cannot help but feel the horror Helena had as a witness.
Then, at the end, we see that Helena’s words have had a broader impact beyond her life. The simple words of her caregiver, relaying her own family’s story of loss, resonates in a few brief pages with everything Helena has needed hundreds of pages to convey through her own efforts.
What shining beauty is in her words.
I was given an ARC (digital) by the publisher to review.
Want more fiction like this? Try Message Stick. A biracial man only faces his hidden past when forced by mysterious events surrounding the disappearance of his best friend.

Book Review: Unwind by Neal Shusterman

I got up to page 138 with this. The first chapter was compelling enough to keep me interested; the author presents three viewpoints here, all with their own backstories.
Quickly, however, I found two things very annoying. First, the author talks down to the YA reader. Second, although this is set in some future time, the cultural references were all of today’s moment…and actually even outdated for today. So, even though the characters admitted using old cultural references, it didn’t come off well. Because of these two issues, it really sounded like an adult author trying too hard to reach the teen reader…and that’s a big turnoff.
Finally, as the pages turned, the author intruded more and more into the narrative and dialog. By the time I stopped reading, it felt like he was preparing to deliver a “big message,” which is also a turnoff. Not that fiction can’t deliver messages; they just need to be handled with a lighter touch.
2 stars.

3 Common Flaws that Sink Query Letters

In the twenty years I’ve been connecting authors with agents and publishers, I’ve rewritten a lot of query letters. The most common flaws that keep writers from capturing an agent or publisher’s attention are:
–Lack of a tagline. This is a single sentence that encapsulates the protagonist’s journey, the story’s universal appeal, the audience, and the category. Although queries can succeed if they don’t have taglines, the agent/publisher will have to read the entire first paragraph (or more) before their interest is sparked. That’s too long. Taglines captivate in ten words.
–Descriptions that confuse and/or fail to evoke an emotional response. The one or two paragraphs that describe the story need to relay the protagonist’s journey and the universal aspects of the story. In order to do this, these paragraphs must be clear, concise, and evoke the emotional tone of the story. Too much detail, inclusion of details that aren’t important at this initial review stage, and the wrong details are just some of the ways the description fails to open the door.
–Skipping any information about the author. Writer’s don’t have to be celebrities to get book deals. They do have to make a connection with the agent or publisher, however. This works two ways. First, it makes the agent or acquisitions editor a champion for the manuscript. Second, it proves that the author can find ways to connect with readers.
Avoid these three common flaws and improve your chances of being offered a contract.

Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Well, I gave this one a go. I enjoyed the concept but the way the author treated the overarching theme ended up drowning in dialog.
I don’t fault the author for this. It was pretty common to the time it was written to use didactic dialog to convey big chunks of information. So he was right in line with his times. I just wasn’t into reading this kind of book at this time.
I might return to it later and read the entire thing because I found the way he handled the narrative quite compelling. He was a brilliant writer, and is worth the effort. Just not this month!
3 stars.

Romance Fuels Self-publishing

Bowker’s 2013 annual review noted that 25% of spending in the romance category is for ebooks. Compare that to 6% dedicated to ebooks in cooking and 5% for one publisher’s illustrated books, and you’ll see that self-published authors who write romance are taking advantage of the latest technologies.
Check the Smashwords bestseller list any week and you’ll see that romance dominates their listings. Frequently 8 out of the top 10 books are romance: paranormal romance, historical romance, and a slew of other subcategories…but all under the same genre umbrella.
Romance has long been a high-sales category. Readers are voracious, often zipping through 3 or more titles every week. They want what authors can provide: a faster publication schedule than big publishers have traditionally provided, more unique plotlines and character developments than publishers have been willing to experiment with, and a more direct connection with authors through social media.
These three reader benefits have allowed self-published authors in other categories to achieve success. Take a tip from your romance-author friends. Write the books you want to write then get them out there. Connect with fans and listen to what they’re saying. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

Book Review: The Last Good Man

By A.J. Kazinski
I selected this book because I found a number of parallels in the structure to a work I’m currently writing. I was interested to see how the author (in this case, two authors working under a single name) handled the information readers need to know to understand the plot points as well as how that information was spread across multiple characters.
The first 100 pages were strong enough. But the middle part bogged down in elements that were repetative and, frankly, the devices used by the authors were clunky. I kept reading because I wanted to see how they finished the work and how the devices changed throughout. I can’t say I would have kept reading if not for what I might learn about how to handle my own project.
I continued on because this was an “instant” bestseller in the authors’ country and has received some press in the U.S. because of that. I was interested to see why this became a bestseller, and was surprised whenever I found another of those clunky devices, unnecessary repetition, and poorly executed scenes.
Then, the end matter told me what was really up. It seems the authors are both filmmakers in their home country. So the book was a bestseller pretty much because of their fame rather than any quality attributed to the book.
Was the plot interesting enough? Yes. But too many of the other elements associated with the book were poorly excuted to support its success.

Book Review: Doppler by Erlend Loe

Very interesting read. Not sure I liked the jokey portions; they sometimes came off as too flippant. Otherwise a great read about a guy who tosses everything to live in the woods…and yet who can’t find the solitude he craves when others take that as a signal to do the same and move in next to him.
I do like the redemption he achieves with his son at the end. And the fact that he doesn’t give up on his new life…he just moves on. He moves forward, really, and that’s a powerful statement.
4 stars!
If you’re interested in reading a book that can help you examine your life without having to leave everything behind, try Seven Sisters: Spiritual Messages from Aboriginal Australia.

Book Review: Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi

I read this work right after reading the first in this four-book series. That was a mistake. I would have enjoyed this much more if I had taken a break from the series and returned to this after reading other books that don’t deal with this historical event (WWII).
Because I came to it so quickly after the first book, parts of it felt too much like a repeat of events in the first book. I would place that as my fault, not the author’s.
Otherwise, a very enjoyable read. The author could have gone more into the protagonist’s life; the war felt like it was overbalanced in terms of how much time was given to that rather than her journey as a little person. But I stuck with it because I wanted to watch her travel through the parallel journey of being an outsider (as Jews and others were during the war). In the end, I didn’t feel as satisfied as I felt this protagonist deserved. However, the book as a whole is well done and worth the time to read.
3.5 stars.
For more fiction about the impact of historical events on real lives with a protagonist who is an outsider in their own culture, try Message Stick.

Book Review: Floating in My Mother’s Palm by Ursula Hegi

Another fantastic read. Introspective through the use of many tiny snapshots of different people in her town. Although told from a girl’s point of view, this has the mature voice of a woman looking back in time.
Come back tomorrow for more on this author and books from this series.
5 stars!

More Good Signs for Authors with Young Adult & Juvenile in the Lead

The numbers for 2014 aren’t all in yet but things are looking good for the publishing industry’s ongoing recovery. For the first time since 2008, when the economic meltdown impacted book publishing and book sales, the number of print books sold is set to rise.
Last year, print sales rose 9.1% during the holiday compared to the previous year’s increase during that time. The expectation is that 2014’s holiday season will boost the numbers even further.
As we’ve seen so often in other statistics, juvenile and young adult fiction rose significantly during 2013’s holiday season, a whopping 27.3% for that year. Adult fiction rose 6.1% that season, while adult nonfiction continued around the same numbers as posted in 2012.
To give you an idea of what these percentages mean, adult nonfiction unit sales totals were 36,983,000 during the holiday season in 2013. That year, adult fiction sales totaled 18,522,000, juvenile nonfiction came in at 8,641,000, and juvenile fiction sold 31,935,000.
Even if you’re self-published, these numbers matter. They indicate that people are once again spending on books of all types. Jump into a new marketing campaign now to reap the best results.

Book Review: Lies the Mushroom Picker Told

By Tom Phelan. Available Feb 3, 2015
This work is very uneven. The portions that are nearly pure narrative are very well written, interesting, and have a pacing that works well for the storyline and the humor woven throughout. Quite delightful, really, and kept my attention both as a reader interested in the story and as a reviewer considering the quality of the work overall.
However, the dialog did me in. It was overloaded with moments that stretched the humor as well as information that really should have been provided to readers in narrative. I enjoy a more subtle movement through a story, even one with so much humor involved, and didn’t find this a satisfactory read.
I do believe there is an audience for this book, and readers who don’t mind overdone dialog will really thrill to have found this book. But my personal engagement with it left me dissatisfied.

Book Reviews to Keep You Reading Over the Holidays

What better gift can you give yourself than diving into a book…or many books…over the holidays? Escape from the crush of details, forget about your family woes. Read about other family woes! Travel the world in your mind! Sample feasts without the calories!
Starting today, you’ll find one book review each day until after New Year’s. I’ll continue posting pubishing insider information, of course, so visit often for the best tips and updates for all things publishing- and writing-related.

Book Review: Restoration by Olaf Olafsson

This work started out well with the first chapter. It provided an intense moment, showed the characters’ personalities well, and promised much. Then it collapsed. The narrative switched into second person, which is technically very difficult to maintain.
The narrative also became much less compelling. The character’s backstory wasn’t compelling, and the writing wasn’t strong enough to make up for it. It became confusing due to the number of people mentioned; without any direction from the author on where to focus, the novel began to feel like too much work to follow.
I stopped reading before page 30. I do think that for a certain kind of reader, one interested in this historic timeframe (which I am) and who also likes a bit of soap-opera kind of drama (which I don’t), this work could be a great read, so do give it a try.
1 star.