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Posts Tagged ‘Highly recommended’

Pins: Christine Todd

June 23, 2011 11 comments

“Witty, insightful, and often poetic, Pins is a highly original story about becoming. It grabbed me from the start and stayed with me long after I finished.”
Pamela Stanton, Screentrade Magazine

“I love the story and the humour. I totally empathize with Molly, and find her a great role model.”
Sally Zigmond, Hope against Hope

Molly Makepeace Jamison never expects to dabble in Voodoo. But when she discovers that her husband Bob has been stealing away her advertising agency while cavorting with his mistress of many years, she has good reason to adorn his effigy with a few sharp pins. After all, venting a little righteous anger can’t hurt anyone.

But Molly inadvertently taps into something deep and mysterious, and it produces shocking results. When Detective Jonathan Wilson lands on her doorstep with a list of pointed questions, Molly envisions the inside of a prison cell and the bed-lined wards of mental institutions.

She knows she has to save herself. Yet as her new choices produce more highs and lows than Chicago’s weather, she worries that her Voodoo dalliance has taken on a life of its own….

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I have to start this review with an apology: Ms Todd sent me this book to review a very long time ago but I misfiled it and it’s only just surfaced again. I do hope she’ll forgive me.

Pins is a cracking read. It trots along at a good pace, it’s funny and kind and warm and it has lovely happy endings for almost all of its good characters and satisfyingly nasty endings for the less likeable ones. The story is great, the characters are very well-rounded and believable, and Ms Todd’s writing is clear and simple and easy to read: I loved it.

I do have a few reservations. I found a small number of minor typos (a couple of extra commas, and some dialogue which was missing a final punctuation mark before its quotation-marks closed) but I was enjoying the book so much when I found them that I didn’t bother to record them; and the writer does have a tendency to use this construction:

  • “Struggling to keep myself together, I follow…”
  • “Stopping the car in front of a small shop window in the center of a row, I think…”
  • “Standing in the central arched doorway of the Passages room, I survey…”

I never like this passive, impersonal construction: it’s clumsy, and it distances me from the character very slightly which is never a good thing. These seemed to appear more frequently towards the end of the text, which made me wonder if Ms Todd had become a little punch-drunk while revising her work. This isn’t such a big problem but it was enough to jar me out of the narrative each time I came across another example of it and this book would be so much better if the use of this phrasing could be reduced or even eliminated. It was the only writerly tic that I noticed, though, which is pretty good going; and despite my finding quite a few examples, it wasn’t enough to stop me reading this already-good book.

I felt that some of the characters weren’t strictly necessary; and that the endings could have been tighter for a few of them; I would have liked a bit more voodoo involved in the story, perhaps involving more than just the main character; and a little more uncertainty and tension about whether or not Molly’s use of voodoo really did have any effect on the people around her. But these are very small points: the book is good just as it is, but could be even better with a bit more of a polish. I can easily imagine a good publisher wanting to take this book on if that’s Ms Todd’s goal; and I will go out of my way to buy anything else this writer has published. I strongly recommend Pins, and am only sorry I took so long to get around to reading this delightful, absorbing book.

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The Principle Of Ultimate Indivisibility: Brent Robison

April 28, 2011 16 comments

Fiction/LiteraryTHE PRINCIPLE OF ULTIMATE INDIVISIBILITY is a collection of thirteen linked stories, in which people as recognizable as your neighbors stumble through tiny everyday epiphanies, on their way from confusion and loss toward redemption.

Brent Robison’s fiction has appeared in various literary journals and has won awards that paid actual cash… long since spent. He lives among the same mountains where Rip Van Winkle awoke from his long sleep.

Subtlety ought to be on an endangered literary species list, but Brent Robison brilliantly makes the case for its essentiality in this exquisite collection of webbed stories. These stories argue that everything is a facet of the same jewel and we touch each other’s lives in unfathomable ways. To read them is to heighten one’s bond with strangers.

—Djelloul Marbrook, Far From Algiers (2007 Wick Poetry Prize)

Rich, layered images take us deep inside the lives of Robison’s characters, their stories weaving together a tapestry as textured as it is beautiful. Brent Robison’s stories are reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio — stories of ordinary people caught in the crosshairs of circumstance, sometimes of their own making, sometimes not. All of them heroic in their honest struggle to find meaning and ultimately love…. A gorgeous timeless collection about longing.

—Susan Richards, Chosen by a Horse (NY Times bestseller)


The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility is a collection of linked short stories, and each one of them is a delight: a sparsely-written, surprising delight which illuminates unexpected corners of its characters’ lives and in so doing, reveals their obsessions, loves and longings with ruthless clarity.

Robison is a skilled writer with a remarkable gift for tone and nuance. The only thing I didn’t like about this book is its title, which seems far too pompous for this lovely collection. But that single wrong note is a minor one, and I will forgive Mr. Robison for it. Just so long as he continues to write and publish, so that I can read more of his work.

Highly recommended.

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet: Stacia Kane

January 13, 2011 1 comment

From now on I’m going to copy all the reviews I write for this blog over to my original, bigger blog, How Publishing Really Works. Comments here will remain open as usual; comments on my reviews over at HPRW will be closed, so that discussions about the books are kept to one site. This should mean that we’ll get a bigger audience for the books which are featured here, and I hope a wider-reaching discussion for each of my reviews.

We’re talking about writing sex scenes here, guys. This is not for children. Despite my best efforts there is no way I can do this and not stray into adults-only territory. — SK

Stacia Kane writes novels filled with “… flaming hot sex…” (Romantic Times), “… sizzling romance that heats up every page…” (Darque Reviews), and “… spicy sex scenes beautiful enough to make you cry and hot enough to steam windows at the same time…” (Michele Lee). She has published more than a dozen romances and urban fantasies, with publishers like Ellora’s Cave, Pocket, Del Rey, and HarperVoyager. Now she opens her bag of tricks to show you how you too can write the scenes that readers crave.

From setting the scene to consummating the union, Stacia takes you all the way. She reveals the tricks of the professional author, step by step (using examples taken from her own and others’’ writing), giving practical exercises to try in your own books.

When sex is done right, the scene illuminates the most private acts of your characters, demonstrates their connection, their trust, the depth of their feelings, their desire for each other, the moment their relationship deepens and changes beyond anything they’ve been through before; it’s the scene that strengthens the story, increases tension, and adds complications, and at the same time gives the readers what they’ve been waiting for.

From the bare outline to the fully-fledged ready-to-publish novel, Stacia shows you how to avoid common errors, which details to use and which to avoid, what to do when the sex scene isn’t working, how to heat up the action, how to switch point-of-view, how to take the readers along with you to the finish.

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet is like a masterclass in erotic fiction.

“A sex scene should be fun to write, and it should be fun to read.” Stacia Kane


I’ll start this review off with two disclaimers: this is the first book I’ve featured here which wasn’t submitted to me for review. I paid my own money for it, and after I’d read it I asked its author if she was okay with me reviewing it here: luckily for me, she was. Which brings me onto my second disclaimer: Stacia Kane, the writer of this book, is a friend of mine. If I hadn’t know her well and read her other books I doubt I’d have even known about this book, let alone bought it.

It’s a cracking little read. It’s engaging, absorbing and full of life; and it’s a perfect book for self-publishing: it has an easily-defined niche market, and Stacia already has an established fan-base thanks to her excellent novels. Stacia writes with a very forthright, entertaining voice; her personality infuses every line; she doesn’t shrink away from the more potentially challenging aspects of sex-writing; and the advice and information she gives is absolutely clear, on-the-button and hugely useful. She’s a fabulous fiction writer and an inspiring non-fiction writer, and I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in, or considering, writing any sort of sex scene.

And yes, for the record I did find a couple of problems. There is a punctuation error in the back cover copy; I don’t much like the jacket design for the print edition, which is muddy and dull; and I found a missing full stop or two between the covers. But I became so absorbed by the text that I forgot to look for such problems, and I read the entire book in one sitting. Such is the power of strong writing: and that’s why wanted to review this book here.

You can buy the Kindle edition here, or the print edition from Lulu.com; and it’s on Scribd too. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did; and that you go on to read some of Stacia’s novels, especially her Downside series, which is just amazingly good.

Ghost Notes: Art Edwards

February 18, 2010 2 comments

Ghost Notes is a worthy contribution to the pantheon of rock novels. This is a savvy, sharp, insider’s view of the rise and fall of a band and what can be lost and found along the way.
-Mark Lindquist, author of Never Mind Nirvana and The King of Methlehem

Engrossing, real, and well-written… the characters are reliable and honest.
-Laurie Notaro, author of There’s a (slight) Chance I Might Be Going to Hell: A Novel of Sewer Pipes, Pageant Queens, and Big Trouble

Ghost Notes is the Almost Famous for the minor leaguers of rock ‘n’ roll. I read it straight through and loved it.
-Curtis Grippe, Arizona Republic/Dead Hot Workshop

A bass player ready to jump ship from his mega-band, a drifter who hasn’t seen his son for twenty years, a sixteen-year-old high school dropout who is going to rock the world come hell or high water, what melodies will pour forth from these rock ‘n’ roll hearts?

Art Edwards, co-founder and former bass player of the Refreshments, has published two novels, Ghost Notes and Stuck outside of Phoenix, and has released one solo album, Songs from Memory. To learn more about art, visit http://www.ArtEdwards.com.

When I was a junior editor one of my duties was to deal with the slush-pile. It was a miserable thing to do, with the bulk of the work it contained far too bad to be publishable; too bad to even be interesting. I’d sit there reading through each submission hoping, every time, that I’d find something good. Something sparky, well-written, original, exciting: but I never did. I had a few near-misses; there were a few submissions which made me hold my breath, just for a moment; which made me think, perhaps—but almost every time the writing would stumble, the direction would change, and into the rejection-pile it would go.

The few times I found a book with real potential—with writing which caught my attention and a premise that made me sit back and smile—I’d feel an odd moment of stillness and silence, a hesitation in time. I’d hear a voice saying, “there—you didn’t expect that, did you?” It didn’t happen often but when it did, it was magical.

I had one of those magical moments when I read Art Edwards’ book, Ghost Notes.

It’s the story of Hote, a troubled bass player with Fun Yung Moon, a touring rock band with a fading reputation. When Hote abandons Fun Yung Moon in the middle of a tour he encounters Pippy, who has dropped out of high school to be a musician.

There is a poignancy to Art’s writing which gives his book a rare authenticity. I believed everything he wrote, even the chapter from a drummer in rock and roll heaven who addressed us while reclining on a cloud. I found his sparse, gritty prose quietly lyrical: Art Edwards has a real writerly talent.

My only quibble lies with the multiple viewpoints we encounter through Art’s book. While all of his characters are beautifully drawn and fully motivated, their voices do not differ from each other sufficiently to make it clear who is speaking in new each chapter and, as the book is written from a first person point of view throughout, this is particularly troublesome. Had I been editing this book for Art this is the one area I would have advised him to work hard on: resolving this problem would have eliminated the confusion I sometimes felt as I read through the book and it would have enhanced and improved the texture of his multi-layered narrative, giving his already-good book much more depth and scope.

There were a few typos (including that run-on sentence in his back cover copy, quoted above—if you read this, Art, fix it, please!) but they were just about invisible to me because of the quality of Art’s writing. I loved every page of this book despite its flaws, and will be buying his other novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix, and perhaps his music too. As writers go, he’s the real thing and this book is a lovely, memorable read.