Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What do you do when you're asked to review?

I've read and reviewed books by A. J. York before. I know roughly how long they'll be. I know I'll enjoy the storylines, and I know A. J. York's very English voice will appeal to my English heritage. When I receive an email from her asking for another review, it's not hard to say yes. After all, this will be a quick, short, thoroughly enjoyable read, and I'll fit it in between my other commitments... eventually. Ms York is always very willing to wait, which helps a lot, since my other commitments are rapidly wearing me down.

I've read and reviewed lots of wonderful picture books from Wisdom Tales too. They are one of my favorite publishers of children's books, and their stories always blend cultural significance with immediate relevance in a thoroughly pleasing way. When they send an email asking for a review I always say yes. Picture books are lovely, uplifting, quick reads. And the time spent writing a review (probably longer than reading the book) is always time well spent as I get my thoughts and my priorities into order.

The Permanent Press sends me much longer books, literary novels, frequently with a mystery bent. They always arrive with plenty of time to read before the book comes out. I try to read each in a timely manner, and send pre-release reviews, counting myself lucky to be trusted by such an impressive publisher. So yes, I always say yes to them, and eagerly await their parcels.

Then there are websites like Blogging for Books which let me choose my own reads, but do tend to place demands on how quickly they'd like me to review (which is why I'm not doing so many Amazon Vine reviews anymore). Choosing my own entertainment can be great fun though, so I'll say yes, just as soon as I post the last review.

Meanwhile publicists send me emails or letters with information on books. I might agree to review something, depending on timescales, and how the subject or author appeals to me, and depending on my schedule. I'll usually invite the author to be a guest on my blog, hence all those great guest posts here. But book reviews for authors I've not heard of can take a long time - my current schedule is full until late next year!

Finally there are those emails from people who find me, randomly, on Amazon.

We're sure you'd love to review this lipstick, phone case, pencil sharpener... No really. No.
Dear Sheila, I hope all is well with you. I have a favor to ask... depends...
I think you would really enjoy my book... maybe, or
I wonder if you could take time from your busy schedule... perhaps before August 15th, 2016 perhaps?

What do you do when you're asked to review? I used to say yes to (almost) everyone. Then I learned to agree only if the book appealed to me. Eventually even those had to turn into "No. My review list is full until next year." But there are so many great books out there, so many I'd really love to read, so many I'd delight in reviewing, sometime, someplace...

and so many I really, really want to write.

If you asked for a review by August 15th, I've probably already replied and said I can't do it. There's no way I could fit anything longer than a picture book in. If you gave me more time and I still said no to you, please understand, it doesn't mean I wouldn't like your writing. And if I've asked you to wait then made you wait  longer, I apologize. For those who've given me a book to review, who are wondering what's the delay, please feel free to remind me when it takes too long. I always love to know the author cares about hearing back from me.

Meanwhile, here are some long-delayed reviews of some much-enjoyed recently-read volumes. Grab a coffee and see which ones you'd like to read (and review?) - authors love to be reviewed!

Starting with one I chose for myself - lucky me!

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber seems to be everywhere, on all the big displays in all the big bookstores. It deserves to be there. It's a wonderful novel with faith, science, biology, love, hope and more, all perfectly blended together. Don't let anyone tell you what it's about. The story unfolds beautifully with perfect timing and smooth revelations to carry the reader far and further away. Enjoy some rich, elegant, complex coffe and sit down for a seriously good read!

Two children's books just had to be on the list:

Eliza Bluebell by AJ York is a lovely modern-day fairytale fantasy set in a small English country town, where the inhabitants learn from a slightly magical visitor (and her shadow) that they can do so much more than they imagined. Enjoy with a bright lively two-star coffee, and read with a smooth English accent.

The Thunder Egg, by Tim J. Myers, illustrated by Winfield Coleman, is another delightful Wisdom Tales picture book. The illustrations convincingly evoke a Native American background, and the story, though modern, reads with the haunting lyricism of myth, drawing from and speaking to many different cultures. A lonely girl learns just what she'll be willing to give for her community, and a community learns to value the outsider. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Next come two dark novels of mystery and suspense...

Measure Twice By J J Hensley is part mystery, part police procedural, part psychological thriller. An unready detective works through the 12 steps of recovery, and salvation comes in unexpected guises. A dark, haunting tale with great dialog, well balanced horror and humor, and some fascinating complexities, this is one to enjoy with a bold, dark, intense cup of five-star coffee.

Blue Flame by MC Schmidt presents a different kind of mystery as an elderly man falls prey to the problems of the day, and his estranged son finally faces up to the past. It's an oddly powerful, compelling novel, told through multiple points of view. And it carries a great touches of hope in spite of its sorrow. Enjoy with an elegant complex four-star cup of coffee.

Finally, here are two novels that take Christian romance to more serious levels - not for unquestioning readers I guess:

Wind over Marshdale by Tracy Krauss is a story of romance, suspense, faith, listening to God, and the clashing cultures of indigenous peoples with comfortable small-town life. The drawing together of faiths is beautifully done, making this much more than the usual Christian romantic suspense. Enjoy with well-balanced, smooth-flavored three-star coffee. Then read Lone Wolf by the same author, and see how the story continues in the life of Thomas Lone Wolf. More well-balanced smooth three-star coffee would go well.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What books would you take on vacation?

I went to England to spend time with family, and, of course, I carried some books in my case. I did also take a tablet computer pre-loaded with kindle and kobo reads (plus a few pdfs), but I'm still neurotic about running out of battery power in the middle of nowhere. Real books, though heavy, do have the advantage that they don't need to plugged in on the plane. So... what did I take?

I didn't take I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes because it's too big and heavy, but I did read it during my trip, because my sister-in-law loaned it to me when I arrived. So... not a book for the journey so much as one for the destination. I have to include it though, or I'll mess up my review list. And I loved it--a complex story that weaves multiple histories and characters, intersecting timelines, mysteries, terror and more, all tightly drawn so no thread pulls free, all compellingly told, and all so horrifyingly, hauntingly convincing. Not for the overly squeamish, it's a thoroughly character-driven thriller, best enjoyed with some serious, bold, dark, intense, five-star coffee.

I did take the Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline on the plane. My husband, who knows my tastes so well, bought it for me before I left, and I liked it so much I ended up loaning it to my sister-in-law (above, she who also knows my tastes so well). Sister-in-law and I both loved it, a novel told in nicely convincing voices, bringing together young and old, rich and poor, and showing that history's still relevant today. The history's well-researched and deeply sad, but the story's brings its own well-drawn ending with a pleasing sense of hope. Enjoy with some rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee.

The Orphan Train is literary, therefore by some definitions, literarily heavy (though physically light). But long journeys--17 plus hours including connections--need a good balance of light and heavy reads. So my next book was Currency of the heart by Loree Lough. It tells of a more distant history, and it's more heavily weighted with romance, making it much lighter to read. Set in the late 1800s around the city of Denver, it's a nicely nuanced Christian romance, with pleasing non-judgmental attitudes, moral complexities, and fascinating details. Enjoy with some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee.

Long journeys maybe need some travel books too, though The Martian by Andy Weir goes a little further afield than usual. Still, I love science fiction, so this one had to come with me. It offers a convincing and compelling look at the near future, together with clever science and fascinating detail. Okay, so occasional details aren't quite right, but the overall sense of a modern day Robinson Crusoe is great--best enjoyed with some well-balanced, smooth, full-flavored coffee, and a readiness to read all the real and gritty flavors of survival. I loved it.

Every journey needs a bit of mystery too, so I also took David Freed's The Three-Nine Line, fourth in a much loved mystery series about an aspiring Buddhist with a dubious past. In this novel, the past starts catching up with him, and he's sent from Californian skies to Vietnam waters to find who killed a torturer. Drink some richly elegant and complex four-star coffee while you read.

Then there's Cop Job by Chris Knopf, nth in the Sam Acquillo mystery series, and another great character-driven read. The Hamptons, the bars, the businesses, the offices, the scenery and the water all come to life, while a veteran soldier dies. Issues of mental health, societal responsibilities, and fractured parenthood all weave into the tale, and the result is compelling and powerful. Enjoy this with a rich, elegant, complex four-star coffee as well.

For encouragement and humor while waiting for planes and trains to be called, I took a fine volume of short essays in my flight bag: I used to think I was not that bad and then I got to know myself better by Dorothy Rosby. The essays are short, honest, and honestly good to read. The author's voice is pleasantly self-deprecating. And I'd love to have coffee with her. Enjoy these pieces with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee, and you'll want to meet the author too.

And finally, there's a book I'd recently won from a blog and was eager to read, never having read anything by this popular author before. Terri Blackstock's Twisted Innocence is another Christian novel, romantic suspense this time. It contains some singularly American attitudes,  fun to read while traveling to England. But it also has a good message behind the plot. Enjoy with some lively, easy-drinking two-star coffee.

So, what books would you take to read on your trip?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

One day you might hear him!

It really doesn't seem so long since I wrote a blogpost about "The Best Singer you might never hear," Liam was a finalist in Britain's Got Talent, and his soprano voice was just incredible. Then he became an alto with an amazing range, and still his voice changed. Record producers didn't want to know - they just told him to come back when his voice had broken. But Liam breaks records. His voice never broke and he's always been able to sing. Now, aged 19, he's an amazing tenor, studying at a prestigious college, coming top of his year, and looking forward to the sort of career where yes, you will hear him.

Meanwhile I got to hear Liam sing Ave Maria. I've never before been in the presence of a voice like this. I've known there are singers and good singers and more, just as there are writers, authors, good authors and more. But I'd never imagined how wonderful a seriously good singer would sound to my untrained ear. Now I know - there is nothing like it. And a CD, however good, will never seem the same.

One day, when you're famous Liam, I'll show people this photo and tell them, "I met him when..." I suspect you'll be famous long long long before I will, and that's fine. I can write, but so can half the world. You can sing like nobody else in the world. All I can say is Wow, and I'm really glad I finally got to meet and hear you.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Do you prefer long books, split books, or short books?

I was searching the bookstore for something to read on a journey. Not too long, I thought, as it would be a pain to carry. (Yeah I know, I could have taken a kindle, but the battery might have run out.) Not too short, or I'd finish it too soon. And not one of those unfinished, wait-for-the-sequel type books or I'd just get annoyed. So what would you choose? And why was the bookstore suddenly full of delightfully huge and enticing tomes that wouldn't possibly fit in my handbag?

So what did I read? You'll have to wait and see. For now I'm just posting reviews of what I read earlier. And Deadman Switch by Sam Powers is both long and split. It's the second volume in a trilogy, and it's probably best read after reading the first. Better still, read one, then two, then three (which I haven't read yet), as the story really doesn't reach an end, and there's lots to be resolved. Drink some bold, dark, intense five-star coffee while reading - there are some pretty intense scenes of fighting and torture and more.

In contrast, A Dangerous Man by Anne Steves is both short and complete. It wouldn't do for a long trip but it's a perfect length for lunch-break, which is why my review will appear in Nights and Weekends Lunch-Break E-books column soon. Where Deadman Switch trots the globe, A Dangerous Man stays grounded in one small town of the old West. Where Deadman Switch details multiple fight scenes and torture, A Dangerous Man contents itself with one battle, won with a combination of surprise, good luck, and good management. And while Deadman Switch has an undercurrent of potential romance, A Dangerous Man wears romance on its outer sleeve. It's short and fun. Enjoy with a lively easy-drinking two-star coffee.

Then decide if you want globe-trotting or home-staying fiction, long or short, with fulfilling or unfulfilled relationships. And read on.