Thursday, January 29, 2015

What About the Cover?

Never judge a book by its cover, they say. But we do it every day, ignoring the boring thumbnail on Amazon, leaving the uninteresting spine on the bookstore shelf. But most of my books are read on kindle and kobo, given by authors or friends or friends of friends, and weighted with promises to review. The cover's the bit I rarely even notice, if at all. In fact, my review list is so long now, I rarely even remember the back-cover blurb by the time I start to read, and every tale is a brand new picture writing itself to the page.

That said, while reviewing in the presence of my mum, I've paid more attention to what the books look like. So here are some quick reviews, coffee recommendations, and comments on the covers:

Starting with Adelita's Secret by Christopher Cloud, a young adult novel that starts like any other teen romance, then flies with delightfully innocent time travel into heritage, honesty and hope. I loved the book (well, apart from its slow start), but the cover made me think of adult romances - one to hide from my mother while I read. I wished, with such a strong female lead, it could have pictured a white teen sharing the picket line with Mexicans, gun in hand, and strength in her eyes. Drink some elegant complex 4-star coffee with this well-crafted read.

Next is Maybe, Misery, by C. S. Bailey. Billed as a gripping bio-thriller, it tells the diary of a somewhat misogynistic genius scientist, so eager to find the cure for cancer and the next girl to bed that he almost destroys the world. Oddly, the cover image is a portrait of a woman who might compete as an English rose; beautiful, fresh-faced, dark-haired, glowing skin... All through the book I was wondering why she was there. Meanwhile the protagonist did his best to make me loath him, and my scientific leanings complained and confused. A bold dark intense five-star coffee would perhaps go best with this.

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookstores, by Jen Campbell, has a great cover, appropriately weird, lined with books, and quickly inviting the browser to at least read the words on the cover. While the words can't be read in an Amazon thumbnail, the colors still stand out enough to recognize bookshelves, a desk, and a cartoon man and woman with something to say. Inside the book is filled with weird short dialogs, with customers requesting anything from milk to a signed edition of Shakespeare. Something, somewhere, is bound to make you laugh. And something else will make whoever you share the book with laugh too. Drink some lively easy-drinking two-star coffee while you read.

But perhaps the best covers ought to belong to children's picture books. Pine and the Winter Sparrow, by Alexis York Lumbard, is illustrated by Beatriz Vidal, and a pastel cover with accurate renderings of bird and tree branch gives a lovely flavor of what's inside. The story's a delight to read, with smoothly flowing sentences, a tale that's pleasingly, gently intriguing, and a moral lesson in taking care of your friends, inspired by pictures that take beautiful care of nature. It's all made even better by the way the story fits into any religious or spiritual world-view. A pleasure to share. Enjoy some well-balanced three-star coffee as you read.

Then there those soon-to-be-classic literary novels, with covers more serious perhaps, but equally important. There's a Man with a Gun Over There, by R.M. Ryan is a powerful autobiographical novel of a man who didn't go to Vietnam. The cover, with stars and strips over rough-sketched hills, might not seem overly exciting, but the font of the title demands the reader stop and see, and wonder, and turn the page. And the book is a truly compelling, well-crafted blend of scenes, combining into a life, combining into an indictment of the prices paid for war. Enjoy this beautifully crafted tale with some rich, well-crafted, elegant four-star coffee.

Another soon-to-be-classic is The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove, by Paul Zimmer. This time the cover's so elusively plain and simple, with clear typed words, and just that hint of car and trees and fog, or is it snow... but more than one mystery? How? The reader has to look inside and will surely be quickly hooked. The story starts with an old man telling stories, but he picks the wrong listener. Meanwhile an old woman's tale begins. And the two combine. And love dances with the walking canes. And mystery is life and death and everything in between, and danger, and hope. Enjoy another rich elegant complex four-star coffee with this elegant, deceptively simple tale.

Sabotage at RKO Studio, by Christopher Geoffrey McPherson, has a fine old-style cover that offers a consistent old-time feeling in thumbnail too. The thick red letters for sabotage draw the eye, even if the studio's a little hard to see. And the cover certainly gives the right feel for a novel of early Hollywood. Second in the authors James Murray series, it tells two parallel tales - one fiction within the fiction of the other - and does so masterfully, offering different views of the same history through almost the same eyes. It's smooth, cool, and almost reads itself. Enjoy with some more rich elegant complex four-star coffee.

More horror than mystery, Blind Evil, by Eric Praschan has a cover that really gives nothing away - perhaps a woman walking in the rain. But the title says it all, and the title's clear and easy to see in the thumbnail on amazon. The story's twisted and warped, starting with an intriguing psychological mystery, then devolving into psycho-horror instead. It's not entirely convincing, but it's a compelling look at built and innocence, nature and nurture, and the unrelenting grasp of evil. Drink some bold dark intense five-star coffee as you read.

And finally, Broken-Hearted Ghoul, by Joyce and Jim Laverne, is a fun, light-hearted, thought-provoking, paranormal mystery that just might be the start of my next favorite paranormal series. The cover's certainly bright and enticing, but in thumbnail it makes me think of small-town America, ordinary everyday lives - not quite the shock and awe the title inspires. It's a really cool book though, with a pleasingly different take on zombies and more, enough questions resolved to make a complete story, and enough left hanging to satisfyingly offer the promise of more. Enjoy with some rich elegant complex four-star coffee, and few darker brews for darker scenes.

So that's my review of books and their covers, and now it's time to make dinner.








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