Book Reviews

Friday, October 30, 2020


Bestseller Badge

If you’ve read one of my books to the end, you’ve probably noticed that I always ask for a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever the reader bought the book. This isn’t because I want to read paragraphs full of praise for my awesome writing talents. Well, I do, but that’s not primarily why I wish almost everyone who reads my books would take the time to leave a review, if only one of a dozen words or so. Reviews are examples of what’s called “social proof.”

Human beings are social animals. Most of us, anyway. Except for the occasional hermit in the woods, most of us like to live in groups. Groups of families, towns, fraternal organizations and clubs, churches, synagogues, you name it. And most of the time, we belong to groups of people like us.

We gravitate toward people who are close to our own age, have similar beliefs, and who generally look like us. That’s not to say we won’t associate with people who aren’t like us in one way or another. After all, women will speak with men. A good thing, too, or the drop in population would be catastrophic for the human race. And, personally, if I’m in a roomful of women and there’s a black woman of close to my own age, I’m more likely to try to start a conversation with her than a white woman in her twenties. The fact that she’s black is less important to me than that she’s probably a grandmother, will understand cultural references to the fifties and sixties like TV shows, and things like that.

It’s the same with books. When people are looking for a book to read, it’s reassuring to know people like them liked the book before they buy it. This drive to read what others are reading is what makes bestsellers. If everyone is talking about a book, you’re more likely to buy a copy for yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll read it. Come on, fess up. You have at least one—probably more than one—bestseller sitting on your bookshelf that you’ve never read.

I have several. In particular, I have John Adams by David McCullough and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Both were incredibly interesting men, and I’ve always wanted to know more about them. Both books were mega-bestsellers. But somehow, I’ve never made the time to read either one of them. I’m not that interested in biographies. I also have the Wheel of Time saga, all 14 books, which I’ve never read either. Much as I want to have read it, fourteen epic books is a major time commitment. At the end of the day, what I want to read is a mystery or a romance. A story that will take me away from the real world for a while. But I bought all of these, largely because everyone was reading them. Or so I thought.

While people might not always read book reviews in choosing a book, they do take note of the fact that there are some. Or that there are 1,000 or more. If there are no reviews, that must mean no one is reading this book. It probably isn’t worth my time. If there’s one or two, it’s a little better. But if a book has hundreds or thousands of reviews, lots of people have read it and taken the time to tell the world about it. Wow! Maybe I should read this one, too.

That’s why I ask for reviews.

I used to be diligent about reviewing every book I read. I know how important reviews are to an author. I also felt obligated to tell people what I thought, sometimes to warn them off a book that I had not liked at all. It’s interesting to me that my most-liked review on Goodreads is a one-star review of The Lost Years by Mary Higgins Clark.

But as time passes, I leave fewer and fewer reviews. I don’t like leaving one-star reviews. Amazon also rejects reviews of books by people you know, so I can’t leave reviews of books by people who are Facebook friends or who I follow on Twitter and things like that. That leaves out an awful lot of mystery writers. That’s one of the “clubs” I belong to—other mystery writers.

It also takes a long time to write a considered review, time I don’t have now that I’m trying to publish books more frequently. I almost always leave a “rating,” meaning I click the number of stars on my Kindle at then end of the book. I started that with the intention of going back online on my computer, where it’s easier to type, and writing a review. But I rarely do that now. Actually, I’ve started not to leave a rating on books that I didn’t like at all.

There is one major exception I make to this practice. If the book blew me away, knocked my socks off, was so good that I couldn’t wait to buy another one by that author, I always leave a five-star review with comments. This experience is so rare recently, I feel the author deserves to know that at least one person thought it was a great book.

And so, I’ve started to understand why so few people leave reviews on my books. But, if you’ve read one and had that “What a great book!” reaction, I’d really appreciate it if you took a few minutes to sign on to Amazon or Goodreads and write a few words.

Even if you don’t, I’d like to thank all of you for giving my books a try.


Truth, Justice, and the American Way!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

This morning I watched one of Craig Martelle’s Five Minute Focus videos for writers. Today he followed up yesterday’s video on Branding with What is a Brand. He admitted these had probably been recorded in reverse order, but I imagine that was a result of questions that came up on the 20 Books Facebook group after people had watched the first one.

Anyway, that got me thinking about my own brand, which has changed from “Mystery, romance, and adventure in the desert Southwest” to “Mystery with a touch of romance” with the debut of my Shipwreck Point Mysteries, which take place in Massachusetts rather than Arizona. But I’ve never been really satisfied with the second version. In my heart, I know it doesn’t really capture what my mysteries are about.

Those of you who are of a certain age may recognize the words in the title of this blog as the end of the opening to the the nineteen-fifties television show the Adventures of Superman. That, along with the Lone Ranger, was one of my favorite television shows. I probably liked it better than the Lone Ranger.
The idea of a “mild-mannered reporter” who could, on demand, transform into a superhero, often to rescue Lois Lane from the bad guys when he wasn’t saving the whole world, was a young girl’s dream come true, especially when he looked like George Reeves. (His other well-known role was one of the Tarlton twins in Gone with the Wind.)

The Lone Ranger is a similar character, defending the weak against the bad guys, this time in the old West instead of Metropolis. Which brings me to what I think my brand should be.

What my two mystery series (and my first Community of Faith series) have in common is justice. My sleuths always want justice for the wrongly accused. Lilliana always wanted justice for her friends. With Titus Strong and Elisabeth Wade, the scope of who my sleuths want justice for has widened. In these books, Titus is on a mission to defend the underdog.

I just haven’t come up with a snappy way of phrasing that concept. If anyone has an idea, I’d be happy to hear from you.

Because “Truth, justice, and the American way!” are so ingrained in my way of thinking, it has sometimes led to posts here and, more often, on Facebook that may alienate some of my readers. Craig makes a big point of not getting into controversial subjects like politics for that very reason. For years, I made a big effort not to do that.

But the last four years have been different.

You see, Truth is also incredibly important to me. And, right from the beginning, I saw that the media was not always telling the truth about Donald Trump and what he said. They also didn’t get his jokes, instead fanning outrage over statements that I, as a born and raised New Yorker of roughly the same age, found hilarious. (And, yes, “Maybe we should drink bleach” was a joke.)

Don’t get me wrong. Donald Trump is far from a perfect person, and there’s lots I didn’t like about him. He’s a bit of an egomaniac. He uses too many superlatives. He started out being terribly na├»ve about politics. But he’s also very smart (anyone who becomes a billionaire can’t be stupid), and in 2016, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what he said. I also find the Clintons abhorrent, which didn’t hurt his odds of my voting for him.

Over and over again, I saw how the media misquoted or took out of context words that Donald Trump said in a speech or interview. And I felt an obligation to point out what he’d actually said, thus breaking my own rule about discussing politics in public forums. Some people interpreted this as affirming that I was a Trump supporter long before I became one. And the more the media lied and commenters on my Facebook posts hated on me, the more I was pushed to becoming a Trump supporter.

Even though in 2016, I really wasn’t one. It was more a case of the lesser of two evils for me.

The Democrats and the media haven’t helped their case since then. The unjustified impeachment proceedings that spent millions of dollars and stalled needed legislation, the smearing of Justice Kavanagh’s reputation based on liars’ (most likely paid liars) testimony, and the riots in the streets aren’t things I can get behind.

Nancy Pelosi, with her refusal to pass interim legislation of smaller scope to help individuals and small businesses, is more concerned with her power than the suffering of Americans.

And meanwhile, despite needing to defend himself at every turn, Donald J. Trump has an amazing list of accomplishments for his first term. There are too many for me to enumerate in a blog post. You can see them here:

I would hope that after November third, we would be able to stop all the hostility and animosity among Americans, but I’m afraid it will continue long after Election Day. For one thing, whichever side loses is bound to bring lawsuits accusing the other of malfeasance and illegal voting practices. Some fear the election won’t be decided by January 21st. That would be a disaster for the country.

In every way, I want to get back to living my life as a proud American. I know I’m not alone in this. But for that to happen, we really do need Truth, Justice, and the American Way!



Saturday, October 03, 2020

It’s that time again. If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, you know that I’ve taken part in National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, multiple times. If you haven’t followed my blog for long or you just forgot, NaNoWriMo takes place in November. As you might guess, the idea is to write an entire novel during the month. Now, it’s not a big novel, since your goal is 50,000 words, but it still qualifies as a novel. (For comparison, most of my cozy mysteries are about 60,000 words, and The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant clocks in at 80,000 because of the largish subplot.)

While you can’t start writing this novel until November 1st, you can—and should—do planning in advance. This includes character studies, a good idea of the setting, and some idea of your plot. In a murder mystery, you need to know the victim, the killer, a few suspects, and the motive, means, and opportunity for the crime. If you want to go all out, you’ll also create a list of scenes to write. In case you didn’t guess, most of the writers participating do this preparation in October. Thus we have Preptober.

Since I’ve just finished The Case of the Comely Clairvoyant (releasing Tuesday, October 6th), the timing is perfect for me this year. It also helps that an online group I regularly write with is planning on using our sprint time in November to write NaNo novels. This group of mystery writers has made the pandemic a lot more bearable, even fun, since I haven’t seen any of my Tucson friends since March.

Yesterday, I started prepping for Preptober, and today my plan is to make a schedule of the various tasks I like to have complete before I start writing. Since this will be another book in the Shipwreck Point series, I already know the setting and the main characters. But I do have to come up with that pesky victim, the killer, and additional suspects. I’ve been thinking about Titus’s next client for a while now, and I think he’s perfect. Only, since I like him so much, I’m having a hard time coming up with who he kills. The victim is going to have to be at least as unlikeable as the killer in this book. Someone who, as we like to say, “needs killing.”

Anyway, I have a lot of work to do, so this blog post is done now. I can’t promise to make a post here every week until December, since the pace of NaNoWriMo is exhausting. But I will be thinking of you. In the meantime, you can keep up with what I’m up to in my newsletter, which you can get if you put your email address in the sidebar box.

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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tagged: currently-reading