Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Book Reviews and Writing Tips

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Book Review - The Neighbors by Ania Ahlborn

Captivating Fast-Paced Thriller
Just Released 11-27-2012

5 stars

This book had me captivated from the start. I was intrigued the moment Andrew Morrison found himself driving down the street toward his new home. It is a new beginning for Andrew, away from his alcoholic, agoraphobic mother. I felt the same hope he does for a new life that he will share with an old friend who’d invited him to room with him.

The neighborhood looks as if it holds the answers to all of Andy’s dreams, not ever having had a normal childhood. The manicured lawns, neatly trimmed shrubs, and white picket fences are only things he’s seen on TV as a child.

He is a bit disappointed to find his new home, with Mickey, will be in the only run down home in the neighborhood, but he puts these thoughts aside. Always looking on the bright side of things, Andy’s spirits lift at the prospect of a new life on his own.

Once inside this true bachelor pad, he goes about scrubbing up the scum and buying furniture for his room from the thrift store.

His first view of the neighbors next-door, Mr. and Mrs. Ward, bring back memories of the Cleavers in “Leave it to Beaver” he’d seen on TV. They epitomized the perfect American family with the perfect house and perfect yard. They never dressed casually, not even for yard work. He couldn’t take his eyes off the fairy tale house.

As time goes on, Harlow and Red Ward became his friends, much to the angst of Mickey, who knows the real story and wants to protect his younger friend, as he’s done most of his life. However, Andy will heed none of his warnings about the Wards, who also have a few choice things to say about Mickey, all for leaving doubts about his life-long friend in Andrew’s mind.

Mickey and Andy eat a lot of fast food, so it isn’t hard for Harlow to get Andrew’s attention with her cooking. Later, Harlow makes a play to seduce the young Andrew, who looks upon her as a mother figure, the kind he wishes he had. Her behavior stuns him and he pulls away, but ultimately forgives her, being a very lonely boy.

By the middle of the book, the story is in full swing leaving the reader with lots of questions. What’s behind the locked door in Mickey’s house, why does Mickey disappear at times and sleep well into the afternoon when he’s home, are the Ward’s as nice as Andrew thinks they are? Something dark brews beneath the surface.

Andrew, having the good heart he has, also feels guilty about leaving his mother alone while he has the good life. He finds himself torn between staying and going back home, but it’s hard to turn down the home-cooked meals and the perfect life of the Wards. Besides Harlow is a lovely lady to look at, always done up perfectly and looking much younger than her age.

There is intrigue at every turn as this mystery begins to unfold, leaving Andrew with some suspicions of his own although he pushes them aside, and reasons with himself that his thoughts are not valid. Eventually, Andy begins to realize that sometimes things are not as they appear to be. As enticing as it looks, perhaps life isn’t any greener on the other side of the fence.

There is a lot of mystery in this well written tale about very twisted characters. It is gory and tense in places, so not for the squeamish reader, but if you love suspense, you’ll love this book. The end is satisfying and heartwarming.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Six Sentence Sundays

Courtesy of Creative Commons 

      Nestled along the banks of an old twisting river, the quiet little town of Pleasantville seemed to lay untouched by the modern world.
      Sitting off to itself on a side street on the edge of town was the old McNeil mansion, now just a hull of old weathered boards and not at all the place it was in its prime. Most folks in Pleasantville did their best to stay away from it, believing the ghost of Abner haunted it, the last McNeil to live there a century earlier. On some level, these beliefs seemed to be true. What else would cause an old rocker to creak back and forth on its own? The eerie sound was enough to make your hair stand up and prickles to run up and down your spine.

For those new to this, the rules are simple:

1) pick a project – a current Work in Progress, contracted work or even something readers can buy if you’re published

2) pick six sentences

3) post ‘em on Sunday

See? Easy. Want to play? See the site for information on how to do just that:

If you have a Twitter account, you can add the hashtag #sixsunday to your tweets when you tweet a link to your Six Sentence Sunday post. If you’re a writer (regardless of published/unpublished status) come join us!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How Do You Review Books?

Free Clipart

I’m sure we all have our own criteria for writing book reviews. I like to review every book I read and as you know, I’ve been posting some reviews here from time to time, however, I don’t post reviews on my blog for every book I read.

My life has become so busy that I’m not able to read as many books as I would like to, not if I want to finish some of my own that I work on from time to time. However, I still love to read and at one time was reading about sixty-two books a year. Now I’m lucky to get a dozen or two read.

I would like to tell you some of the things I consider when doing my reviews. I have to say first that the title has to get my attention, that and the cover. Then I read the synopsis to see if it’s something that I can get into.

As I’m reading, I look at the following:

1. How long does it take to engage me in the story?

2. Does the story keep me engaged?

3. Are type-o’s, punctuation, and missing words distracting?

4. Does the story flow well and make sense?

5. Does the cover and synopsis accurately reflect the story?

I’m sure all of you look for those same things when reading a book. You know how important it is to engage the reader in the first few pages of the story. I’ve read a few books over the years where things don’t get moving until after the first one hundred pages. It’s very hard to keep reading a book like this.

I’ve also read books where the punctuation has been missing completely, leaving sentences to run together. This is very distracting, hard to figure out where the story is going and what is happening, especially when it comes to dialogue, even if it’s a good story.

I’m making these statements about books published by one of the big publishing houses where a good editor should catch things like this. I’m not talking about self-published books, although you’ll find some of these mistakes in them as well, but usually not to a large degree, at least not in my experience.

When I get ready to review the book, I’m always honest, regardless if I know the author. To glorify anything like this would be a disservice to future readers and to the author, who could benefit from my feedback. I am immediately suspicious if I see a book on Amazon that has too many five star reviews, or all five star reviews. I know these days that it is easy to get friends and family to review books and not leave an honest opinion. This is a red flag to me because, let’s face it, not everyone who reads the book will enjoy it, whether it is a good story or not. That is just human nature. I have no qualms about giving a three star review to a good book, if there are enough other issues that were an annoyance to me while reading.

When reviewing I try to keep it concise, but also give at least a one page review without giving away any spoilers.

Besides the things mentioned above, I also look at:

Presentation: Is the formatting consistent throughout? Are all the paragraphs indented or none at all indented? In other words, does it all match throughout? Is the font size the same throughout and is it easy to read? All of this stuff can be distracting, taking away from a polished manuscript.

Voice: Does the book read naturally and come across as believable? Is the author pushing some agenda, or do they have issues with the subject of the book? An author should keep their views out of a work of fiction.

Organization: How well is the book organized? Is there a good mix of narrative and dialogue? Do the flashbacks detract from the story? They should be smooth so the reader can follow. Narrative should also fit in with the story. I don’t mind back story if it’s done in moderation, but I know there are some readers who hate back story and would rather it be mixed in as dialogue. Does the book have a beginning, middle, and end? I hate books that leave you hanging with no resolution. If the book is part of a sequel, it needs to stop in an appropriate place.

How do the sentences flow? Are words and sentence structure varied, or does the writer use the same words repeatedly? That can really drive you crazy.

What about word choice? I think that sometimes writers tend to use the biggest words they know, so that they sound well educated. Many times simple words can have an amazing impact on the story, or situation. The words selected should be varied and in keeping with each characters personality.

Ideas, plot, and characters: Is there a well-developed and interesting conflict? Are the story and the characters believable? Are there sub-plots going on that could actually happen in real life?

Here are my ratings:

5 stars – Excellent book – Could re-read it many times, always discovering something new. It engaged me from the beginning and kept me there to the end. I would highly recommend it to others. The synopsis is in keeping with the story, as is the cover. If there are any editing issues, they were few and didn’t distract me from the story.

4 stars – Good book – Could recommend it because of the good story. It probably has some issues that aren’t worthy of a five star rating, even if the rest is what I was expecting it to be, which is as advertised.

3 stars – Good book – A good readable story, but perhaps a predictable story with some issues mentioned above that were distracting. I would still recommend the book though probably, if it is as advertised and only needed a quick clean up without a total rewrite.

2 stars – Didn’t like it much and it needs work and wasn’t as advertised. It is probably not engaging with very little action to the story to keep me reading, along with other readability issues. It may have been work to finish it.

1 star – Hated it and it’s unreadable. Loaded with mistakes and couldn’t make heads or tails of the story.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Six Sentence Sundays

      “Yes sir. I’m pretty sure it’s not here,” the rookie replied as he scrabbled on the ground for evidence.
      “Okay, call me when you have it, I’ll be having lunch.”
      “Will do sheriff.”
      Judd Perkins locked the patrol car and went into the diner, taking a seat on a stool at the counter. Stephanie sat alone in a booth in the back, eyeing him before going back to her book and her sandwich. Why does he keep showing up everywhere?

For those new to this, the rules are simple:

1) pick a project – a current Work in Progress, contracted work or even something readers can buy if you’re published

2) pick six sentences

3) post ‘em on Sunday

See? Easy. Want to play? See the site for information on how to do just that:

If you have a Twitter account, you can add the hashtag #sixsunday to your tweets when you tweet a link to your Six Sentence Sunday post. If you’re a writer (regardless of published/unpublished status) come join us!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pebbles and Rocks – Does Anyone Ever Really Notice Them?

Royalty free clip art

We all should but most of us are busy going about our daily lives with nary a look at the scenery that surrounds us. I know that happens a lot where I live. Despite it being home to some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve ever seen very few pay attention to the views all around them every day.

Rocks can be as large as mountains or as small as the smooth pebbles found in the bottom of a streambed. Trees and shrubs can grow out of the surfaces if there is a well that dirt has filled, giving them a place to take root. These plants survive off rainfall alone because, of course, it is impossible to push your roots through a massive rock.

Rocks, formed into their various sizes and shapes due to the elements and the ages, whether it is wind and water or earthquakes and other natural disasters. They have truly stood for all time, big or small, carved or smooth, and will continue to be part of Earth long after we’re all gone.

I’m sure we’ve all sat on a rock at some time during our lives, whether it was to contemplate some matter, to rest, or even to relax beside a river and fish.

In our youths, we’ve probably thrown smaller rocks at friends playing games that kids will play, or hunted for them in scavenger hunts, painted them for art projects, used them as doorstops, or thrown them into streams to watch the pools of water spiral out, or to see how many times they will skip before sinking.

However, you may ask, what does this have to do with books or writing? Well rocks exist in all genres of writing over the ages. Of course, they abound in history books and westerns, but we also see a lot of them in fantasy and sci-fi books where they take on mysterious elements. Of course, being a fantasy writer, I really like to put my imagination here. Looking out my window, I can imagine all sorts of things in the rocks and ledges in my back yard. Perhaps a completely secret world lives there in the crevices. Not to mention the one small pebble that may have some hidden magical power.

You’ll find rocks in books about family dramas, memoirs, geology books, children’s books, romance, and general fiction, as well as some famous books that have used rocks in scenes.

The next time you see a rock, maybe you’ll think about it differently than you have in the past.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Six Sentence Sundays

Courtesy of Creative Commons

      “I guess I’ll get on with my walk then.” Stephanie pulled her hands off the pickets and got back on the sidewalk.
      “Nothing wrong with my memory, miss. I won’t forget.” Old Dame Tibby moved back to the rug, Stephanie heard the dull thump of the broom as she jogged down the dappled street.
      Large oaks and cottonwoods shaded the sidewalk and part of the pavement, children’s squeals echoing through the boughs, shattering the peaceful morning, reeling in Stephanie’s thoughts.

For those new to this, the rules are simple:

1) pick a project – a current Work in Progress, contracted work or even something readers can buy if you’re published

2) pick six sentences

3) post ‘em on Sunday

See? Easy. Want to play? See the site for information on how to do just that:

If you have a Twitter account, you can add the hashtag #sixsunday to your tweets when you tweet a link to your Six Sentence Sunday post. If you’re a writer (regardless of published/unpublished status) come join us!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Creating Memorable Moments in Writing

Public domain clipart

It is the significant moments in books or movies, or just about anything else in life, which have lasting effects on us. I bet almost all of us can remember different scenes that have remained in our minds long after we closed the cover of a book, or we left the theater after seeing a film that made an impression on us. I know this happens to me.

The trick is how to make this happen in every scene in your book. It’s much better to start your novel off with a bang instead of a boring scene. You need to jump right into the action with something noteworthy. How can you strengthen the scene to make your words jump off the page? All of us know it is those first few paragraphs that really count. Of course, it would be great to write three hundred pages of material that kept the reader sitting on the edge of their seat. I’m trying to do this with my current WIP. Of course, it is much too soon to see if I’ll accomplish this or not. I am hoping to achieve enough tense moments when it’s all said and done.

The story advances by the characters dialogue and actions in different situations throughout the book, thus revealing things about them and moving the story forward. We get to know how the characters think and feel about the situations that they encounter throughout the story. As the writer, you need to create an incident that will stir things up for your character and get them started on their journey, which might be solving a crime, finding someone they lost years ago, finding the love of their life while tackling other obstacles in the way, rescuing someone or something, etc. You get the idea.

Your protagonist should have the reader engaged after the first chapter. Perhaps the character did something shocking. Maybe the first paragraph included a tear jerking moment, or they were so funny and unpredictable that the reader can’t help but care about them. Remember you can’t draw your reader in with pages of narrative that is all back-story. Something actually needs to be happening to your character. In fact, it is best to reveal any back-story through dialogue between characters. This is hard to do all the way through, but the whole book would read better if we all could refrain from tons of information that we don’t need to put in our stories. Narrative does weigh a story down and dialogue moves it along. If we could all remember that, we’d probably be writing compelling novels. I’m definitely at fault here on the first novel I ever wrote. I don’t think there is a bit of dialogue in the first three chapters and that is unusual for me.

Whatever the plot is, your character needs to encounter challenges from the beginning to the end of the book. There may be times when it looks like things are falling into place for your characters, but that is the time to step in and throw a brick in their path. Memorable moments are ones that catch the reader by surprise when they are anticipating something else. I think I was able to achieve this, even with all the narrative I had going on in the beginning of that first novel.

It is important to get across to the reader the way the characters feel, what they are facing, fearing, desiring. What are they feeling in their heart? Are they frustrated, vulnerable?

Along with this, let’s never forget the value of description, so the reader gets a real sense of place and time along with a sense of character. See, hear, smell, touch, taste all come into play depending on the scene. I’m guilty of this one in a big way. When it comes to description, I probably use it to excess, so beware it is easy to do. My very first writing class taught us how important description is to the story and personally I don’t mind reading books with lots of flowery descriptive phrases, but I know I’m probably an exception in this case.

Each chapter should hold a suspenseful, spellbinding moment that leaves the reader hanging at the end. You may ask how to accomplish this in every chapter. It could be a bit trickier in some genres. I think mysteries would be easy to do this with because think about all the things that can happen to throw things into chaos for the characters in a mystery novel. New evidence could become known, another murder could take place, someone significant could be caught up in shady dealings, people could disappear, the number of things that could happen is really only limited by your imagination. You can accomplish this in other genres as well, if you think it out.

When you look at things this way, you can see how easy it would be to introduce all kinds of issues for your characters to face in any genre. The most important thing is to keep the action coming to the very last page. That will make for a tense fast paced read, or a slower thought provoking one and that’s the best kind.

Remember, if you are ever stumped, just pick out a few novels and read the first few paragraphs. This is a good way to get inspired. You want the reader wondering enough about what will happen to your character to keep reading.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Six Sentence Sundays

Courtesy of Modalt Creative Commons

     A squeak drew her eyes back to the rocker on the porch. She jumped when someone rapped on her window. Stephanie turned around and found herself face to face with a boy about ten.
     “You scared me half to death young man.” She was still shivering.
     “That’s a haunted house. I just thought you should know.” He grinned showing a missing tooth in front. Dust wafted off his tee shirt and brown hair hung in his face.

For those new to this, the rules are simple:

1) pick a project – a current Work in Progress, contracted work or even something readers can buy if you’re published

2) pick six sentences

3) post ‘em on Sunday

See? Easy. Want to play? See the site for information on how to do just that:

If you have a Twitter account, you can add the hashtag #sixsunday to your tweets when you tweet a link to your Six Sentence Sunday post. If you’re a writer (regardless of published/unpublished status) come join us!