Book Review: The Bookseller’s Tale

Personally, I would never consider moving to Oxford, England. Like Gotham City, it is home to way too many fictional murders. But I love reading about them. Which is why today I have a book review of The Bookseller’s Tale by Ann Swinfen.

The Bookseller’s tale is (spoiler alert) a tale of a Bookseller in medieval Oxford who finds himself sucked into a murder mystery. But the mystery itself is not the most interesting part of this book.

Many historical novels I read use the history as a colorful background, sometimes even as a way to move the plot along. One might, for instance, set a story in revolutionary France and move the plot along by having one’s heroine bear a remarkable and unfortunate resemblance to Marie Antoinette.

Sometimes the setting proscribes the plot so strictly, it can only move in certain directions if it is to maintain structural integrity. Regencies, for instance, focus heavily on the social protocols of a specific subset of British nobility. The rules and whether a hero obeys or flauts them are almost as significant as the actual physical setting.

So I do respect the significance of setting and time in a novel. It’s just that many historical novels can be a bit wearisome in their determination. It’s almost as though the author is trying to demonstrate the depths of her research by using absolutely every jot and tittle of it in the book, whether the information applies or not.

This is not the case with The Bookseller’s Tale which is why it won this week’s book review contest.

Ann Swinfen winds up her characters, places them in a medieval college town just after the plague has backed off, and lets them go the way they must. As a result, the historicity is organic.

Swinfen doesn’t lecture. She just lets the story unfold.

And in the process, the reader develops a fascinating picture of the challenges and also the good things about life during that period.

There are some things I wished for when I was reading. I’m not usually a fan of maps in books, but I would have liked one in this case.

I would also have loved a glossary of some of the terms. Swinfen is good at slipping unfamiliar words in contextually so you can guess what they mean. But that’s not the same as knowing.

I understood cotte was a garment but I had no clue what type. Similarly I was sure pease pudding was food. But I had to look it up to figure out how it might be a sliceable food.

Still, these are minor complaints. Because now I’ve read one, I want to read more. If I’m lucky the next in the series will be illuminated and I can settle down to read it while sipping a stoup of ale.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.

book review

Book Review: Mistress of Mellyn

Sometimes when you pick a random book off a library shelf, you get lucky. Last week, I wandered toward the H’s. Which is why I’m writing a book review of Mistress of Mellyn.

Victoria Holt was Eleanor Hibbert’s pen name when she was writing gothic novels. But she was also Jean Plaidy (fictionalized historicals) and Phillipa Carr (family sagas). So lots of the romance books I read and loved as a teen and young adult were actually written by the same person.

Mistress of Mellyn was published in 1960 and I was curious to see if time and social changes had impacted on it. Well, yes. And no.

The main character Martha Leigh is an impoverished but intrepid gentlewoman who takes a position at an estate in Cornwall as governess for a troubled child. There is a very nice progression of growth as Martha transitions from embarrassment at and resentment of her low status to fascination with the challenges of working as a governess.

Necessarily (spoiler alert) she falls in love with her boss, the mysterious and crabby Connan TreMellyn, and they live happily ever after.

I know exactly how romantic I would have found Mistress of Mellyn as a teen. Very.

But.

As an adult reader in 2017, I have trouble figuring out just exactly what Martha sees in Connan. I know, I know – tall, dark, handsome, brooding, wealthy Alpha male.

Still, they spend very little time together. Their conversation is limited to arguments about the welfare of the child. He travels for business at the most inconvenient moments. Since they are in different social strata, Holt has to work hard to come up with reasons for them to interact at all.

Their relationship is so distant their first kiss is almost as surprising to the reader as it is to Martha.

Most important, Connan has a significant emotional issue he has to surmount in order to love again and because the story is from Martha’s viewpoint only, we don’t get to see much of his character development.

He’s probably a nice guy underneath it all – hey, Martha likes him. But he’s kind of a standee hero. Which is distressing, because I liked Connan too, in the abstract. I just wish I could have seen more of him.

I guess, from a reader, that’s the ultimate compliment.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.

book review

Book Review: Heroes Are My Weakness

When I was thirteen, a friend gave me my very first gift certificate – a $10 ticket to happiness at a local bookstore. I bought Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. So last week, when I happened on Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ tribute to gothic romance, Heroes Are My Weakness, I was thrilled to write a book review of it.

Gothic romances are, by their nature, prone to clichés. It’s one of their charms. Also one of their dangers. It’s a short step from a broody, alpha male hero, to an insensitive jerk.

So I couldn’t wait to see what Phillips would do with her story. It was like anticipating a high wire act starring an elephant wearing high heels.

But Phillips takes what could have been a catastrophe and turns it into a triumph. She incorporates all the beloved motifs of gothic romances, the castle on the hill, the slightly off townsfolk, the mysterious man with dark and painful secrets, and gives them the respect they deserve. But she also tweaks them to work for contemporary sensibilities.

As a result, the reader doesn’t have to struggle through page after page of tortured Yorkshire dialect.

Yes, Wuthering Heights, I’m talking about you.

Nor does the obligatory child character make precious remarks in French a la Jane Eyre. Oui. I still remember penciling in the translations in that paperback. It was the first time I ever wrote in a book, a practice so unacceptable in my family as to be almost illegal.

The most fun character in Heroes Are My Weakness is the heroine. Annie is wounded, sure. She wouldn’t be a proper Gothic heroine if she wasn’t. But like Catherine in Wuthering Heights and the eponymous Jane Eyre, she has a sharp wit and a strong sense of self.

Romance plots require a certain enforced proximity. It’s the only way to ensure the two main characters are forced to deal with each other. But in old Gothic romances the heroine is more trapped, more beleaguered than we expect a contemporary heroine to be.

Authors of contemporary Gothics have to work around things like cell phones, fair labor laws and the lack of societal censure for an unmarried woman who hangs around with an unmarried man unchaperoned.

Phillips managed to pull off the best contemporary Gothic I have read. Her elephant not only stays on the tightrope, it never fumbles the chainsaws it is juggling.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

block

Writer’s Block and How Not to Conquer It

Writer’s block is a problem for almost everyone at one point or another. I, for instance, am suffering from it right now. At this very moment, I have no idea what I will write this blog entry about.

I considered current events and lost a half an hour combing through intriguing stories looking for a clue to solve my writer’s block. But the article comparing a newly found dinosaur carcass to the Mona Lisa didn’t do it for me. It would have if the dinosaur had resembled Lisa in any way, but aside from having two eyes and a nose, no.

Then there was an article announcing a new position at NASA for a Planetary Protection Officer. But that article proved less exciting than I had hoped.

Turns out the officer will be in charge of making sure no space microbes make their way to earth and no earth germs make their way to planets we visit.

I had been hoping for laser guns and fancy fighting moves. But it turns out some cleanser and a scrubby pad will do the job.

This has taught me that news articles these days tend to promise more than they deliver.

But I digress. From my writer’s block. No, I don’t have a writer who has a block. Although now I think about it, playing with blocks might not be a bad idea. Or sharpening my pencils. Even the automatic ones.

Because one of the features of writer’s block is a sort of lassitude when it comes to conquering it. I would think that out of sheer stubbornness I would force myself to write a blog entry even if I didn’t have anything of significance to say. But writer’s block is kissing cousins with procrastination.

Brainstorming ideas and writing prompts are tried and true ways to conquer “The Block”. So I sat in front of my keyboard eyeing the blinking curser sullenly. Nothing came.

No problem. There are lots of writing prompts online. I’ll check as soon as I upload this article and let you know if I find anything good.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

mermaids

Mermaids and Their Public Persona

Book Review Wednesday is back and better than ever. Except it happened on Monday which leaves me with nothing to write about today but mermaids.

I live in Rhode Island which seems to be the mermaid capital of the world. Not counting Copenhagen. So maybe it’s the mermaid capital of the United States. I say this because mermaid décor is a thing here.

Mail boxes and fences all over town are decorated with them.

A gas station not too far away has a Rube Goldberg type invention which features, among other moving metal parts a mermaid on a swing flicking her tail saucily in the wind.

Local shops lure tourists with mermaid figurines, mermaid ashtrays, mermaid statuettes in much the same way mermaids are fabled to lure sailors to a salty demise.

Actually, according to legend, the sailors are lured to their demises by mermaids’ singing.

Right.

A whaling ship has been becalmed for days. The sailors are losing their grip. The captain is at his wit’s end. The crew is muttering about a mutiny, until a pair of mermaids swim into view.

The mermaid on the starboard side is wearing an oversized bright yellow rain slicker and is singing with the sweet finesse of Kathleen Battle.

The one on the port side rides the waves silently combing her hair and beckoning coyly. She is dressed, well, like a mermaid.

Which side do you think the sailors will jump off? Me too.

Which raises a basic problem.

If the singing part of the story is an exaggeration, you have to wonder what else mermaid explicators have been lying to us about.

For instance, salt water makes long hair dull, sticky and painful to comb. Which means mermaids have to carry conditioner with them at all times to maintain that silky shine. That never seems to be in the pictures I’ve seen of mermaids.

Or how about what a mermaid eats. She lives in the ocean. At least one of her ancestors is a fish. I’m assuming mermaids aren’t cannibals since none of the pictures show razor sharp teeth, so that leaves seaweed and plankton. Nothing wrong with a sea vegan diet per se, except she wouldn’t have time or energy for lolling about singing and combing. She would be too busy eating.

The biggest issue is the question of what mermaids sing. It has to be mostly a capella although she could tap sea shells for rhythm and blow on a conch shell for emphasis. So that leaves out rock and roll and probably jazz. Brazilian music might work. What do you think?

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

words

Eat Your Words. But Spice Them Up First.

I don’t read cookbooks for pleasure. They are more like lawn mower repair manuals from my perspective – the words are necessary, but rarely inspiring. The exceptions to my disinterest in cookbooks are the ones about bread baking. I can imagine the texture and pull of the loaf when I read bread recipes.

Today, I was dipping into my latest library catch, The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and found myself fascinated. She lists a dozen unfamiliar words all of which refer to different types of pre-ferments, mixtures of flour, water and yeast which precede the actual dough in some kinds of breads.

She says, “At first these terms put me off, and I was resolved to avoid them in this book, thinking that the all- encompassing term starter was all I really needed, but gradually these special words became familiar friends. This common language serves not only to distinguish the type of starter but also to connect us to a history and family of bread bakers around the world.”

I agree. Some words are exceptionally cool. Sort of like kids you knew in high school who were not only good at everything they applied themselves to but were also friendly, kind and likeable.

Your average hardworking words like Go, or Thing, or About are like this.  Useful, no doubt. In some cases, irreplaceable in their simplicity. They are the basic iceberg lettuce of our conversational salad — not particularly nutritious, infinitely forgettable.

But words like venary, or concentric, or antithesis are the kind of words which you can chew. Mustard green, sun-dried tomato, sourdough sort of words. They fill your mouth with exact flavors. They pull at your teeth, pepper your tongue and compel you to pay attention to their tang and texture.

We need both, of course. There is a place for vague in our speech. The world would be a poorer place without mashed potatoes. Or macaroni and cheese. Or the boring kind of grilled cheese.

But comfort food loses its charm if that’s all we ever eat.

So bring on the levain, the madre blanca, the sponge, the poolish, the altus brat. Because they give our bread and our writing a depth of flavor and make our words ring in the memory like the taste of sourdough on our tongue.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

time

Time and Money: What are They Worth to You?

Going to a restaurant can be fun and delicious but for the most part, unless the restaurant is right next to your home and the service is exceptionally fast and inexpensive, dining out does not save time or money.

I will make an exception for foods which normally require hours of preparation. Croissants from a restaurant, for instance are a definite time saver over making your own.

And sourdough bread? Don’t even get me started.

But my point, and what I have been circling around for the past few blog entries, is that time and money and their relative values in the context of indie and traditional publishing are a tricky thing to measure. In the final analysis, the decision about which way to spend minutes and coins belongs to the individual writer.  The important thing for us as writers to understand is we are making that decision every day.

Finding an agent costs time and/or money. So does hiring editors, formatters and cover designers. Whether that time and money comes out of an author’s pocket directly or whether it has a long term impact on how much a traditional publisher can afford to pay that author is almost immaterial.

Publicity isn’t free, even though sometimes it feels like it is. Social media participation eats time.

Website design does too, unless the writer pays for it, in which case it can eat money too.

There is nothing wrong and everything right with spending time and money on the things that matter to us. For those of us who find their delight in writing romance and getting those stories into the hands of happy readers, the cost is absolutely worth it.

But I think it’s important to stay alert to what that cost actually is. Looking at our expenses in life is a great way to assess what we truly feel is important. Plus, it helps us decide to order Savory Souffles followed by Baked Alaska at a restaurant instead of trying to make those items at home.

Of course, if you do want to make them at home, call me. I’ll free up my calendar for the eating part.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

publicity

Publicity and Indie Publishing. And Windmills.

Publicity for your book launch used to be the responsibility of a traditional publisher.

The author would make herself available for the publicity opportunities the publisher arranged. These could include book signings, interviews, or talks at libraries.

In addition, the publisher would arrange for placement on bookstore shelves. The book, not the author. Although that too could probably be arranged.

Also, the publisher would enter the book in contests, promote the book in the appropriate journals. Also purchase advertisements as appropriate.

But fellow authors tell me and my reading confirms that traditional publishers no longer take all the responsibility for publicizing a new book. In part, this is because traditional publishers expect to turn their focus to the next book fairly quickly.

Remember, a traditional publisher sinks significant money into the initial production and broadcast of a book. Once the publisher makes the investment back and, hopefully, a profit, moving on to the next book makes sense. From a publisher’s perspective, while it is nice to have ongoing profits from a book. Unless you wrote the next Don Quixote, the real money is in the launch.

And yes, Don Quixote is the best selling non-religious fiction book of all time. Who knew?

This means that when it comes to publicity, what was once a large gap in obligation between authors who are traditionally published and indie authors has narrowed.

As far as I can tell, the biggest difference in time commitment relates to the learning curve for indie authors. Traditionally published authors presumably have expert guidance in what needs to be done in regards to publicity.

An indie publisher must gather information on how best to publicize her book on her own. This means sometimes she will rely on mistaken or incomplete advice.

There are professional publicists who will, for a fee, do an indie authors publicity and guide her through the process. But, like doing one’s own formatting, there are certain advantages to conquering the mountain one’s self.

For one thing, you only have to learn how to do it once. After that, it’s easy. Plus, if you ever have to launch something other than a book, like a communal campaign to ride swaybacked horses while jousting with windmills, you’ll know how to do it.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

formatting

Formatting and the Indies. Wait, is that a Band?

As I consider the differences between traditional and indie publishing, formatting leaps to mind. This is only an issue for those of us who indie publish, but it can be a significant one.

No romance reader of my acquaintance checks a binding for the publisher’s name before choosing a book. But weird formatting like off center chapter headings or margin justification run awry does make a reader wonder.

And the last thing any author wants is for her reader to stop thinking about the hero’s romantic crisis and start paying attention to uneven spacing. Yeesh!

Traditional publishers will format a manuscript for both print and ebook. That’s one way they protect their investment. An indie publisher who wants to protect her investment of time, effort and money, should aim for the same level of quality.

Luckily, fellow authors are remarkably generous in their advice. When I first began learning about formatting, I found detailed instructions online from dozens of bloggers.

I am in awe of folks who blithely talk about waltzing through their formatting in an hour. It takes me a good deal longer. And I am not waltzing, more like clogging, without the finesse.

Using the binder I filled with detailed formatting instructions, it usually takes me about half a day to format my manuscript for paperback.

And a whole day to format it for ebook devices. Because the only reliable way I can do it is by using HTML. And I’m not exactly proficient in hate mail, I mean, HTML.

I really should think of it as hot meal. Then I would look forward to it.

These indie publishers may just be better at formatting than I am. And no doubt they have more practice. But they may also have Macintosh computers.

Many online formatting guides are specific to Macintosh or to the Macintosh version of Scrivener.

Scrivener, a writing program with a lot of cool features, was initially designed for Macs. I own the PC version which has less of those useful cool features. The company is working on that. In the interim, if you want an easier formatting experience, you’ll need to buy a Macintosh.

But if you want to grow big formatting muscles and develop a large vocabulary of inventive curse words, you’ll use a PC. It’s a lot less expensive than a Macintosh and you get bragging rights.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

indie publishing

Indie Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

In my last entry, I discussed weighing the value of time when considering whether to pursue traditional publishing as opposed to indie publishing. Based on my own experience, I have come to the conclusion that traditional publishing is more expensive for an author than most of us beginner writers realize.

But indie publishing is no slouch when it comes to time consumption either. Not to mention actual coin of the realm.

Whether you plan to publish a paperback or an ebook, your book will need a cover. And not just any cover – the sort of cover which says, “Buy me. I will bring you laughter, tears of joy and I will infect you with a burning desire to read the sequel.”

So, unless you are a talented graphic artist, you will need to hire a designer. There is a monetary cost, of course. But there is a time cost as well. Because you have to think about what you want in some detail beforehand and must convey that clearly to your designer ahead of time and during the process.

Traditional publishers make those cover design decisions on an author’s behalf and use their own designers to do the actual work. Author friends have told me they sometimes dislike the cover choices their publishers make and feel those choices can impact on the number of sales. In addition, the publisher’s designers quite reasonably expect to be paid for their work. Which impacts in some small measure on the advance a publisher is willing to offer.

So in a real sense, there is a financial cost to an author either way.

And that’s just the outside of the book.

Formatting your manuscript so you can hold your very own book requires some significant author patience. Not to mention research.

Hiring a knowledgeable person to format your work for you is one way to make that happen. But then you will miss all the fun. Plus, you won’t get to swear like a pirate’s parrot. An opportunity no one should miss.

So in my next entry, I will wax eloquent on the joys and risks of formatting.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.