Friday, May 15, 2015

True confessions: Do you turn down the corners of pages?

I used to think it was vaguely heretical to turn down corners of pages in books. Still worse was defacing the paper with words of my own. Reading with a pencil in hand? No way! Then my husband bought me a kindle.

E-readers have this nice little feature that lets you turn down corners without damaging pages. They encourage you highlight text, without ever defacing the (non-existent) clean white paper. You can even take notes and don't have to carry a pen.

Reviewing books by kindle became so much easier than reviewing them in print. I could scribble my notes (typing one-fingered on that keyboard of tiny raised lumps--my kindle's kind of old). I could highlight useful information like protagonist's names, where and when the story takes place, favorite phrases, whole paragraphs that illustrate a point. Then I could "view notes and marks" at the end, to compile them into a readable book review. Easy!

All this is especially important to me as I read too fast and forget too easily. But I still enjoy the feel of paper books, so much more satisfying than mechanical. I still read and review lots of paper books (reading too fast and forgetting too easily, again). So..., heresy of heresies, I now turn down corners of pagers with cruel abandon, highlight text with evil pencil marks lurking in the margin, draw bubbles around my favorite passages, and even scribble my own notes along the sides. The scribbling my own notes bit is a bit of a problem though, as I struggle to read my writing and try to remember what on earth I wanted to say.

Anyway, that's how I set about to write a book review. How about you?

And while you think about it, grab a coffee to match your favorite read, and enjoy this introduction to the books I've read recently, with matching coffee recommendations:

First, in print, was Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist (lots of turned down corners). I posted a review of this a few days ago, to help the author celebrate its release. Like a Jane Austen novel set around the Chicago World Fair, it tells of an enterprising young woman in the days when women and unions were just beginning to change the world. There's a pleasing romance, a convincing sense of history, and a wealth of great characters. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Telling a tale of slightly more recent history, The People Under the House, by Dene Hellman, combines the story of a sixties housewife (e-highlight all those details of time and place) with the horrors of Nazi Germany, weaving together two characters who really did fall in love and marry. But there are no fairytale endings in this memoir, just vividly depicted real life. I'd recommend this one just for its first two parts - drink some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee while you read.

Grendel's Game, by Erik Mauritzson, was the next print book in my review pile. Imagine Girl with the Dragon Tattoo crossed with Hannibal Lecter, and give the protagonist an almost perfect home and family, then you'll get the picture. It's an odd blend of noir and light--will the light or dark win? Enjoy with some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee. (Comments written in the margins.)

Betrayer of Kings, by Sam Powers, (e-highlighted paragraphs) fits more closely into its genre, but it's only the beginning of a three-part tale, and might leave some readers frustrated at its conclusion. That said, it's an intricately detailed tale of spies, counter-spies, terrorists, politics and betrayal. I will read volumes 2 and 3 soon-ish. Meanwhile, enjoy part one with some dark intense five-star coffee.

Returning to print, the next book I read was a Christmas present, One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson. (Just a few turned down corners this time - my husband might want to read it too!) I read the first Jackson Bodie novel last year, and I'm thoroughly addicted to the TV series (Case Histories - so is my husband). So this book is one I'd looked forward to for ages (a few months at least). Kate Atkinson has an amazing way with chapters, turning and polishing each into a short story in its own right. Meanwhile the lives of her characters twist and intertwine in a complex dance. Enjoy with a richly elegant complex four-star coffee.

Devil's Creek by Aaron Paul Lazar will come out in print soon, I expect, but I had the pleasure of reading a pre-release e-copy (comments in margins again). I really enjoyed it. The storyline is dark and difficult, involving sexual addiction and more; but the writing lifts it beautifully, offering just the right combination of seen and unseen terror in matching tales of a man taking a risk on love and seemingly doomed to lose. Enjoy with some more richly elegant complex four-star coffee.

Back to print, I had to write this review without bending any pages because the book belongs to a friend. But I loved the story and it was really no hardship to read without taking notes. The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano appeals to me just for its title. But the story is more than its symbolism, as two young people grow together, grow apart, and never quite fit. Some relationships have different edges than others, and this tale draws the lines between its characters beautifully. A touch of life, a touch of romance, great locations, and gritty reality all combine in an absorbing book best read with well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

And finally, one last ebook, though it always surprises me to find picture e-books for kids (no need for comments or bookmarks when the book's so short). Maybe when I have grandkids I'll buy e-picture-books by the dozen. Willa the Wolf gets New Shoes by Leela Hope is a nice positive tale about not letting the mean kids get you down, written and illustrated for preschool and kindergarten kids. A wise fun bedtime story perhaps, to enjoy with some bright lively easy-drinking coffee.

And that's my list. Now back to the television to see if we've recorded any more Case Histories to watch over dinner. But first I'll put the coffee on.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Agent, Publisher, or Contest? Which would you choose?

Do you love to write? Do you write for publication? Do you dream of publication?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, I guess my next question is which would you rather do,

  • send a query letter to an agent, 
  • send a query letter to a publisher, 
  • or enter a contest?
My first dream was to find an agent. Surely that had to be best - someone else who would do all the hard work of researching places my writing my fit, advertising it so the publisher knows it will fit, and making me sound good. After all, which writer really wants to blow her own horn? But then I learned that researching agents is just as hard as researching publishers, and feels just as much like applying for a job.

Have you applied for a job recently? Then you probably know that feeling of applications disappearing into black holes with no reply. I began to suspect query letters go into the same black holes. So I gave up on option one and option two.

But what about contests? No query letter. Just writing to the prompt. Just doing what I dearly love to do. Except only one person can win, and why should I imagine I'm best of all. I'm good enough, I reckon, but am I that good? Then I found that contests often either cost money or are more like America's Got Talent than the Booker Prize. At least query letters are private and free. I gave up on option three.

Then I started writing book reviews, accidentally researching publishers while noting who published the books, finding places where I might fit while accidentally maybe getting my name know to them, and then my novels and my Bible stories found a home (with Second Wind Publishing and Cape Arago Press respectively). So perhaps that should have been option four. Would you rather:
  • write short stories
  • write your great American novel, or
  • write book reviews?
The bit I've missed out here is that I actually found my first publisher, Gypsy Shadow, through a contest. And I found my latest publisher, Linkville Press, through another. So don't give up. Even if you feel like it. Even if you read blogposts like mine. Even if you're sick of rejections and feel like you'll never succeed...

So... I got an email last week about a contest you might try, if you fancy writing online: A free writing platform called Inkitt is running a contest called Epic Worlds: A New Adventure. According to Inkitt, the site lets you interact with readers, collaborate, trade feedback and ideas, and generally get exposure. I suspect being willing to try to be popular will probably help as well, but hey, anything's worth trying once isn't it - well, as long as it's not actually bad for you.

The contest began on May 6th and closes on June 3rd. It's free, and you can submit any fantasy story up to 15,000 words. There are cash prizes and cover designs on offer, and if you've not tried an online contest, or you need some incentive to write, it just might work for you. If not, you could always write book reviews.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Get Fluffy meets Fifty Shades of Greyhound ! Writers and Other Animals...

Today I'm delighted to welcome authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter to my blog. They write books with such pet-themed titles as: Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, Yip/Tuck, Fifty Shades of Greyhound, and The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo ! Irresistable!   And they've brought with their wonderful pets here with them today, to help tell us about...

Writers and Other Animals
We write a pet-themed mystery series and we belong to a Facebook group of authors who write books with animals in them. All the stories are different, but what we have in common is our love of animals. We can’t speak to why the others chose to include animals in their stories, but we will share our own story of how we came to write mysteries with names like: Desperate Housedogs and Yip/Tuck. Or our latest, Downton Tabby.

1. Pet Love When we were told our cozy mystery needed to have a “theme” we realized that if we were going to do a series, it should be around something we felt passionate about. Cooking? No. Crafts? No. Our families? Yes, but we didn’t think we should kill them - even if was just in a book. Though, there are days… Then, it hit us. We are crazy about our rescue pets! So, we decided to incorporate people and their love for their pets into our mysteries.

2. Character Insights You’ve heard the quote that says, “We can judge the heart of man by his treatment of animals.” Well, it’s very true. How someone interacts with an animal reveals a lot about that person and we love to use that to give readers insights into the characters in our stories.   

3.  Comic Relief Part of what keeps us turning the pages of a book, whether a cozy, a thriller, or other types of fiction, is the pacing and tension. Having a misbehaving pooch or cuddly cat to break the tension can be great, but what’s even more fun is how we all behave when it comes to our furry family members.

4. Amateur Sleuthing In a mystery that features an amateur sleuth, there must be plenty of opportunity for sleuthing. We’ve chosen to use cousins who, through their professions (pet therapist & pet boutique owner), not only come in contact with a lot of pets, but also have a view into the lives of the people they come in contact with.

5. Common Ground. We’ve found that readers who have a love for our furry friends also enjoy the types of stories we write. This shared passion has brought us in contact with a wonderful group of readers and friends who love their pets and enjoy a light-hearted mystery.

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They’ve chosen to use Sparkle Abbey as their pen name on this series because they liked the idea of combining the names of their two rescue pets – Sparkle (ML’s cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). The authors co-write the bestselling Pampered Pets Mystery Series which focuses on the wacky world of precious pedigrees, pampered pooches, and secrets in posh Laguna Beach, California. The main characters and amateur sleuths are Texas cousins, Carolina Lamont, a pet therapist, and Melinda Langston, a pet boutique owner. The first books in the series, Desperate Housedogs, Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, Yip/Tuck, Fifty Shades of Greyhound, and The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo have received rave reviews. Midwest Book Review calls the series “A sassy and fun mystery!”

They love to hear from readers so stop by their website or visit them on Facebook at: to check out all their latest news.

Currently the Kindle versions of Sparkle Abbey’s backlist titles: Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, and Yip/Tuck are on sale at the discounted price of $1.99. And the most recent titles, Fifty Shades of Greyhound and The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo are on sale for $2.99.

The next installment, coming in June, is: Downton Tabby

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Tiffany Girl, stained glass, and romance

Deeanne Gist's Tiffany Girl releases today, and I've been lucky enough to enjoy reading a pre-release copy, so I thought I'd post a picture, and my review. It's a fun historical romance - all the flavor of Jane Austen, all the excitement of Tiffany stained glass at the Chicago World Fair, pleasantly blending modern writing with a believable historical feel, and sensuously romantic without those intrusive why-are-you-telling-me-this details.

Imagine a Jane Austen novel, transposed to the US, and set around Chicago’s World Fair. The dashing wounded hero seems like he might never fall in love. The independent adventurous heroine will surely never realize he loves her. The wise older women sees everything and keeps it to herself. Meanwhile there’s a convincing backdrop of streetcars, bad behavior, bustle-pinchers, strike-breakers, awkward parents, and a young girl who dearly wants to paint. Plus Tiffany glass.

Fascinating details weave very naturally into the story – unlocked rooms in a boarding house; dinner-time parlor games; and even the details of how stained glass windows are made. Meanwhile there’s the pleasing progression of a girl’s self-knowledge, from assumptions of greatness to that quiet acceptance which turns the ordinary into something wonderful.

Some beautiful scenes will remain with me now I’ve finished reading the novel – a skating scene where Reese’s first step into the fun zone almost turns into disaster; a moment of unexpected release when a kindness is reported; a wonderful meeting on a street-car where the tables are turned on an unruly bustle-pincher; and, of course, the long awaited scene where romance wins the day. Author Deeanne Gist does a very pleasing job with romance, carefully avoiding cringe-worthy soap-box sensuality while still teasing the senses delightfully. Suddenly it’s clear why layers upon layers of discreetness combined with a button-hook might be erotic, and it’s beautifully told.

I enjoyed watching the protagonists change in this novel. I enjoyed the details of history, life, and social change. And I particularly enjoyed the sense that life and love aren’t just defined by success. The pictures between chapters are delightful too. And the cover entices with an image that’s not quite real, but waits for semi-fulfilment, just as the character learns her fulfilment is more. Tiffany Girl is a lovely historical romance – highly recommended.

Disclosure: I was lucky enough to be given an advance proof copy, and I really enjoyed it.

Find Deeanne Gist at and enjoy wandering through the site to look for books, news, great pictures, and other exciting information. And find Tiffany Girl at:

amazon print:
Amazon kindle:
Barnes and Noble:
Simon and Schuster:

Monday, May 4, 2015

Self-publishing, editing, body language, and a deathly Initiate.

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Sharlene Almond to my blog. Her latest novel, Initiated to Kill, came out recently, and she has just finished writing her fourth, which looks at, among other things, the bubonic plague and conspiracy theories. If that intrigues you, find some virtual coffee and cookies (gluten free - I want to share) and enjoy our conversation. 

Hi Sharlene. I read that you self-published first, then found a publisher, which is something I did too with some of my books. Can you tell us why you self-published? And what do you like about having a real publisher?

I self-published to enable me to contact reviewers to review my books, while at the same time contacting publishers. Quick-starting the process meant I could get a fair idea of what readers wanted through reviews, and publishers could get a look to see what readers liked etc.

The best thing about having a publisher is that they cover all the editing, book cover work etc, without me having to pay out for things to get done. I have also noticed that quite a few book reviewers won’t review self-published authors, or some think because a person self-published that the book won’t be very good.

Admittedly, I do think my novel is much better done by a professional editor.

I review quite a lot of self-published books, as well as ones released by publishers, so I guess I'm not one of those who would have said no. But I'm interested in your comment about professional editors. I read that you're trained in editing and proofreading, so I'd assumed you wouldn't need to pay someone to edit your work. 

Although I have been trained in that, because I have read my manuscripts so much, it’s easy to miss the small things. As the saying goes ‘two eyes make better than one’. The more eyes on it, the more likely things will get picked up.

Do you have any advice for people who might feel they have to self-edit? What do you think is the most important thing to remember?

While working on my second book, I thought I had picked up as much as I could. But coming back to it a year later to make sure I’ve covered everything, I have picked up heaps of things that I previously missed.

Of course, with working with a traditional publisher, thankfully I don’t have to pay for the editing.

That's certainly an advantage, and one I've really enjoyed now I have a publisher. So, moving on to a  different sort of language, I know you've studied body-language; how do you think that feeds into your writing? Can you offer other writers any tips?

My main character, Annabella Cordova is deaf, so the main way she communicates is through body language and facial expressions. Although I did plenty of research about this, actually studying this topic enabled me to give the character a more authentic feel to what she does.

Personally, in any good thriller/mystery book, adding an element of interpreting body language makes it a great read. Everyone can benefit from understanding body language.

And because I go into detail about this aspect, it makes it a bit different than other thrillers that might just skim over the topic.

Do you think body language changes with time and place, or is it truly a universal language?  You write a blend of historical and present day plots, set in different locations, so I'm guessing that's something you'd have thought about.

Body language is completely universal. Humans are incapable of not communicating. Whether it be someone displaying obvious signs of anxiety or anger, to someone just sitting completely still and not speaking.

Everything we do communicates to others, and because a lot of our body language is subconscious, we also cannot control some of what we put across. In that millisecond, our true feelings are exposed, and even the most accomplished liar cannot control that.

So, whether it be historical or present day, our unconscious brain sends signals that cause an automatic reaction, before the conscious kicks in.

The only thing I would say, is that people are becoming more accomplished liars; whether it be through psychopathic tendencies or pathological liars, people are learning more to mask their inner feelings. But if someone is trained and observant, no one can truly hide everything…

That's comforting, I guess. So, finally, I have to ask you the obvious question. Please can you tell us where you and your books can be found on the internet.

I’m on a variety of social media platforms, which I am happy to connect with people that want to learn more about me and my books:

Thank you so much Sharlene. It's been lovely to host you. I hope you enjoyed the virtual coffee, and I'll look forward to reading Initiated to Kill and posting my reviews.

MORE ABOUT THE BOOK: Two men from two different generations, both initiated into a powerful organization that throughout history has sought control and uses their power for destruction. They leave behind a wake of murder, manipulation and ancient secrets. 

The first man wreaks havoc in and around the Whitechapel district of London, England in the 19th century. While the other stalks his victims in the cosmopolitan city of Seville, Spain in the 21st century; knowing that only he could uncover the true motives of one of the world’s most infamous serial killers—Jack the Ripper. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

The mystery of a week with no writing

We're going to read from our self-published Writers' Mill Journal soon. Our local library hosts monthly meetings for us, and they're hosting the reading too. So this week has spun by in a haze of emails, schedules, practices, meetings, more meetings, more emails, more schedules and more, more, more. There was I, with plans to read and write (and post reviews). But listening to other people read, and reading aloud what I've written, they're valuable too. This busy week's been filled with practical lessons and learning and fun - plus the odd cup of coffee at a local church that kindly allowed us to fill their lobby with words. I hope the reading will go well - it certainly feels like it should, and we have some great speakers. I'll add a report when it's over on our website:

Meanwhile, here are the books whose reviews didn't get posted last week, with apologies for the delay and all the books yet unread (and unreviewed), and with coffee, of course!

First are two children's books, the Oliver and Jumpy stories 1-3 and stories 4-6, by Werner Stejskal. I've read some of the later books, and these start the series well with bright pictures and text that reads like listening at a favorite uncle's knee. Enjoy some bright, lively two-star coffee as you read.

Thereby Hangs a Tail, by Spencer Quinn, takes animal stories into the realm of adult mystery, and I'm so glad I wrote my animal stories (Tails of Mystery, coming soon from Linkville Press) before reading this, as I would hate my Fred and Joe to become confused with the wonderful Chet. I'd been meaning to read some Chet and Bernie novels for quite a while, and this did not disappoint. It's a fast, fun, furious romp through desert and town as dogs and humans struggle through flawed lives and fast-flowing crimes. Imagine a cross between Mr Ed and LA Noir and you'll get the picture. Enjoy this lively tale with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Mysteries continue in Gunfight at Grace Gulch, by Darlene Franklin, when a historical land run re-enactment ends in murder and romance. There's a pleasing thread of very natural Christian faith running through the tale, together with well-researched history and a fascinating mystery to be solved in both past and present. Enjoy this nicely balanced tale with some well-balanced three-star coffee.

Continuing the theme, Killer Date by Kathy Clark, is a young-adult novel of romance, suspense and mystery. It's second in a series, but stands alone well, and introduces readers to a wonderful collection of characters who will easily support the rest of the series. It also introduces Vegas magician Reno, commitment-phobic, and soon to fall in love as a young woman's sister disappears. Their first date ends with a scary knock at the door... A fast, fun tale, balanced with real truths to tell, best enjoyed with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Then there's The Hoard, by Neil Grimmett, a dark tale of dark places, set in a Royal Ordnance factory where explosives darkly brew. Ghosts of past murder, monsters that may or may not be human, and the walking wounded combine in a tale with some serious evil at its core. Enjoy with some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee.

Finally, here's one that's not a mystery, but offers the same satisfaction to the reader of putting clues together as the pages turn. Polite Conversation about the Weather, by D.A. MacQuin, offers a fascinating mirror on a generation as character weave in an out through their ordinary lives, bracketed by the extraordinarily genuine ties that bind them. Think Olive Kitteridge, with a touch a Dune, some serious pot, and the death penalty, and enjoy this elegant, complex collection with some elegant, complex four-star coffee.

And now, the remaining mystery is how will I ever catch up with my reading and writing schedule. I've only got ten books on my list to review by the end of next week. HELP !!!!! Wish me luck, with that and with the Writers' Mill reading at the library.