Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Sunday, August 14, 2016

How I Read ~ A Guest Reviewer Writes ~ #ASD #Asperger's

I came across Lise Lotte when looking for bloggers to read and review my latest book, Cocktails and Lies.  I became so fascinated by Lise's story, that we struck up a kind of correspondence which resulted in me inviting her to write a guest post on her reading experiences for my blog.  As a former English teacher, I'm always fascinated to hear about readers' perspectives, and because Lise's autistic spectrum disorder, I thought her story might be of interest to authors and readers everywhere.  Over to Lise.

Lise Lotte
My name is Lise Almenningen and I am the owner of the blog Along with that I run a few other blogs on various topics. I also happen to be ASD/Asperger's/Autistic.

I did not know I had Asperger's until about the same time I started my first blog, 2012. Until then, I just figured I had some unusual quirks that I tried very hard to suppress. When I realized all of that strangeness was normal for me, I stopped fighting it so hard. Surprise. Surprise. Life got simpler.

I believe the greatest commonality in Aspies, is how different we perceive what we see/observe/feel to non-ASDs (or neurotypicals/normals as you like to call yourselves). That is both our best friend and our worst enemy depending on what we are doing and who we are with. As a reviewer (once I let myself out of my preconceived idea of a reviewer), I believe being Asperger has shed new light on texts.

I am addicted to reading and will try to read anything. That does not mean I will finish, because not all writing is worth finishing. Whether a text is worth finishing has nothing to do with the author's level of education, expertise or category. I have read academic texts whose authors cannot have been beta-ed and "trashy" authors whose writing is so poignant, I am incapable of putting the text down. Sometimes a text is so technical, I am incapable of ever understanding it. I would not know if the author is good or not in such cases. But I will give them a try.

When I review a text, I will first read it through. I need that to set some kind of anchor in my mind. Then I will do research. If the author has a website, I check out what they say about themselves. Things like where they are from, have lived, interests etc. influence my interpretation of the text. If the author is from the US, I review with a different eye than if the author is from South-Korea.

When stories are about topics I know little about, I will check out terms. Lynette's Cocktails and
Lies had police titles I needed to know the definition of so I could know if they fit into their roles. The same thing with her main character. I know little about insurance, so I looked up that title as well. If the information might be of interest to people reading my review, I will link to it.

Then I check out the net to see if any other person has reviewed the story. If their review appeals to me, I will link to it. When I can find them, I try to include up to five other reviewers and prefer it if there are both good and bad reviews. Sometimes that isn't possible, because I am doing an ARC. I try to include any art I can find on a story. If there are translations, I dig up as much as I can about them and link to that information as well. One Norwegian author, Jo Nesbø, has a huge following abroad. If you check out my review on him, you will see what I mean about translations.

Once the preliminary work has been done, I pick up the story again and try to figure out how I want to approach it. From then on, it is all character-driven and my main question to myself is: Can I believe in this person? Has the author answered their own questions? This is also vital to character-driven stories. If you claim to write a mystery, there should be a mystery to solve. Another thing I look for in my characters is some complexity. This goes for children's stories as well as adult stories. I reviewed an illustrated children's short-story called One Less Meg that exemplifies what I mean.

Romances can be troublesome for me, and this probably directly
related to my ASD. I think that has to do with the type of interaction that authors give their characters in addition to the formulaic form I find the category struggles with. One of these is "the three-some". This has become a particular problem in YA stories that must think they target young girls (preferably US girls). It certainly is not a new concept. Zane Grey wrote about them in his Romance-Westerns. But instead of being a tool the three-some often feels like a fail-safe. Aspergers is a wonderful reviewers tool in that it categorizes details and shares those categories with me when cued. Maybe it is more difficult to get away with easy solutions when your reviewer is an aspie. Maybe. But if you write excellent romance, without or without excellent sex-scenes, I'm all yours.

Violence is another area that authors seem to use as a fail-safe. Well-written violence that fits with the story is preferred. I just reviewed a story called The Broken God with a little boy in it called Zoshi who broke my heart. The violence towards him wasn't of the gratuitous type, nor was it explicit/gory. Instead, we followed his feelings while traversing a dark place. Then, the moment came, and it was quick. But the intensity of being in this eight-year old mind blew me away. Again, One Less Meg was also a violent story, but appropriately so.

Authors seem to struggle most with tightening their stories up and using their resources (betas, editors, etc.) for what they are worth. I understand the desire to keep things. It is something I struggle with as a reviewer. But both reviews and stories need to be slashed and slashed again, or re-written, or ... (you know the theory). Unless you are a "one of a kind" author, writing hurts. This article certainly did.

As a reviewer, I love authors. You are brave people who take a chance on a fickle public. I want you to succeed and want you to do your very best to deliver a product you can be proud of. That is the frame of mind I try to be in when I review your stories. And don't be too hard on yourself when something falls through. Failures do teach you where to go next. At least they have done that for me. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cocktails and Lies #NewRelease by Lynette Sofras (@ManicScribbler) #MFRW Author

Up to now I’ve kept fairly quiet about my latest novel; quietly beavering away at it in my writer's cave, sometimes wondering if it would ever see the light of day.

But here it is at last!  And it’s available for pre-order on Amazon now.

The Blurb:

When Hannah’s house is burgled, she gains as much as she loses: she meets Jan, her reserved Dutch neighbour and successful antiques dealer, and Callum, the detective in charge of the case; then finds some hidden letters to her dead grandmother that take her on a roller-coaster ride of discoveries.

As Hannah juggles the attentions of the two men now firmly in her life, she works to uncover the secrets of the past, only to find this encroaches on the present in unexpected ways.

And then there are the two men in her life, both vying for her attention, both hiding things from her and each other.  What does Callum really know about Jan?  What is Jan hiding from everyone?  And what did her grandmother—whose house it once was—hide from the world?

As if Hannah doesn’t have enough mysteries to solve, her best friend Rachel enlists her help in solving her marital crisis, while her pleasure-seeking mother seems intent on finding her a husband.

With so many skeletons rattling the door of Hannah’s house, can she unravel these mysterious threads and reveal the truth, changing her life forever?


“Have you seen any more of your Good Samaritan neighbour?”
I caught the hint of sarcasm in his tone.
“No, but then, as you no doubt established, he probably has a better view of my house from his balcony than I do of his flat.”
He raised an eyebrow and I’m sure I detected a fleeting spark of amusement in his light brown eyes.  “The reason I ask is that I understand his auction house has a substantial art deco collection catalogued in the next public auction.  If I’m right, that’s scheduled for next Wednesday.  I thought he might have told you, in case you wanted to replace some of your stolen items.”
The sting hit like a double whammy.  In the first place, hearing this from him, rather than Jan hurt, and the second pain—a more prolonged ache—was the guilt at not protecting my grandmother’s treasures better.  I felt I’d lost a part of her that I wish I could have preserved.  Replacing her material legacy was not high on my agenda, but no one seemed to understand that.  The house felt that bit emptier without them, but replacing them with similar items would not make that any better.  I needed the original items back, not copies.  And that’s when it struck me. 
Grandma’s stolen pieces were not the sort of items that were going to be melted down and made into a different form.  They weren’t great works of art, but they were genuine collectors’ items that had value to someone in the art world.  My grandmother had left them to us, to my mother, my sister and me with love.  They belonged here, in Grandma’s house and that’s exactly where they should be returned.  Now I had a mission, to hunt down my grandmother’s legacy item by item, and return everything to its rightful place.
Check out my website for details of my other titles
My Amazon author page

~Watch out for more information about my forthcoming blog tour with prizes~

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Review of the Week: The Owl Goddess by Jenny Twist (@JennyTwist1)

Anyone who has followed my blog will know what enormous respect I have for author Jenny Twist, whose first novel Domingo's Angel still sits at the top of my favourite stories ever.  She's produced many short stories since then, but only one other novel, All in the Mind.  Now at last, the long-awaited third novel has arrived.  Here is my review of it:

The Owl Goddess

I confess here and now to being a fully signed-up member of author Jenny Twist’s fan club.  Everything she writes is a delight to read, so when I received an ARC of her latest story, I knew I was in for a pleasurable read.  The Owl Goddess is quite a departure from her usual genres, and I admit to having mixed feelings at first, but these quickly disappeared when I started reading. 

I was immersed from the start in this innovative mixture of gods and heroes from Greek myths hurtled into the unknown by a  mishap in space to deal with a whole set of new problems posed by a new environment that included minor deities and heroes.  It made for a very entertaining mix and plenty of excitement from the very first page.  When Twist throws the most famous gods and heroes such as Zeus, Athena, Prometheus, Pandora, Atlas, Apollo, Artemis and all the rest into a big modern melting pot, you have to expect the unexpected!  But the result is delightful.

The sympathetic—and often amusing—way the deities are characterised and humanised is inspired.  Each one keeps his/her recognisable traits from the ancient stories, but takes on more human aspects to account for some of their quirks and idiosyncrasies.  I especially enjoyed the strong female deities taking ownership of their traditional roles and adding their own personal, feminine touches.   

The use of modern colloquialisms made them accessible, endearing and highly entertaining.  I loved the portrayal of the three feisty ‘A’ females: Artemis, Aphrodite and Athena.  They kept the action moving forward in a very human way as well as milking every opportunity to add humour and interest to the story through their unique personalities.  Permeating their stories is a rather poignant, coming of age love story to which just about anyone of any age can relate.

All in all, I think this is an inspired story, engrossing, entertaining and beautifully written.  Jenny Twist is a great story-teller and I can see this having an appeal to all ages as a new way to visit classical mythology in a novel, informative and engaging way. 

No prizes for guessing how many cute cats I award this!

About the Author:

Jenny Twist was born in York and brought up in the West Yorkshire mill town of Heckmondwike, the eldest grandchild of a huge extended family.
She left school at fifteen and went to work in an asbestos factory. After working in various jobs, including bacon-packer and escapologist’s assistant (she was The Lovely Tanya), she returned to full-time education and did a BA in history, at Manchester and post-graduate studies at Oxford.
She stayed in Oxford working as a recruitment consultant for many years and it was there that she met and married her husband, Vic.
In 2001 they retired and moved to Southern Spain where they live with their rather eccentric dog and cat. Besides writing, she enjoys reading, knitting and attempting to do fiendishly difficult logic puzzles.
She has written two novels - Domingo’s Angel – a love story set in Franco’s Spain and harking back to the Spanish Civil War and beyond - and Allin the Mind – a contemporary novel about an old woman who mysteriously begins to get younger
She has contributed short stories to many other anthologies, of which two – Doppelganger and Uncle Vernon have been released as short ebooks.
Other works include the Mantequero series: novellas about a Spanish mythological figure, and An Open Letter to Stephen King & Other Essays, a compilation of non-fiction essays and articles.
Her new novella, The Minstrel Boy, will be published in the anthology Letters from Europe in the spring of 2016.

Jenny Twist

Facebook Author Page

Amazon Author Page

Twitter: @JennyTwist1

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review of the week: Woman in Blue and White, Janet Doolaege (@JanetDoolaege)

Janet Doolaege is fast becoming one of my favourite British authors and I had the great pleasure recently to read and review her latest publication Woman in Blue & White. Here is my review:

Having read and loved Janet Doolaege’s other novels, I was delighted to receive an ARC of Woman in Blue & White, a story that engrossed me from the very start.  I soon found myself so absorbed in the story that there were times I was unable to put it down and sat up very late into the night on more than one occasion, never knowing quite where the next twists and turns would take me.  I can tell you now, it took me on a great journey.

The story is set between France and Greece.  I always love the way this author writes about France with a curious combination of reverence and honesty that places the reader so firmly in the scene, you feel you are physically there.  She achieves the same with her descriptions of Greece.  I’ve been to Greece, though sadly not to Santorini, but now I feel as if I actually have been there.  The beautiful, evocative descriptions are what make Doolaege such a masterful author.

The plot of Woman in Blue & White is also very clever.  The rather naïve Zoe finally wakes up to the sort of person her long-term boyfriend is and finds the courage to leave him.  A last minute opportunity to travel to Greece on holiday with a colleague hurtles her into an adventure that changes her life.

When Zoe finds a watch on the beach, she also experiences strange kinaesthetic powers that seem to suggest a tragic, possibly violent history and the feeling is so strong that Zoe believes the watch to have huge sentimental significance for its owner, whom she determines to track down to return the precious object.  This is Ivar, a rather enigmatic and talented artist - and a fascinating character with whom I confess I fell just a little bit in love.  If you only read the book for this gripping part of the adventure, read it you must.  The author’s handling of Zoe trying to find Ivar is superb in its control of tension and drama.

I worry about giving too much away in reviews, and this is a story I would not wish to spoil for anyone.  It’s a must read and one I definitely plan to re-read (hopefully sitting on a beach on a Greek island this summer).  Ingenious plot, sensitive characterisation and haunting descriptions – what more can I say about this truly five star read?

About the author:

Janet grew up in Wimborne, Dorset, within the sound of the Minster bells and the Dean’s Court peacocks. English was her best subject at the grammar school, thanks to a dear eccentric English teacher popularly known as Fishy. After university she moved to France and worked at UNESCO in Paris as a translator, eventually becoming Chief of English Translation. Her husband is French and she has put down roots here, but still feels a strong attachment to England and its literature, particularly its wealth of children’s literature.

She has written three novels, all of them featuring just a hint of the supernatural and the unexplained, subjects which fascinate her, and all three are set at least partly in Paris.  Woman in Blue & White is the latest. Her three novels for children are embroidered versions of old legends, told in a form that she has tried to make more interesting for the children of today. For example, The Story of an Ordinary Lion is told by St. Jerome’s lion himself, and the adventures in Tobias and the Demon are related by Tobias’s dog.

Birds and animals have always been very important to her, and Ebony and Spica is a true memoir of two rescued wild birds, a blackbird and a starling. Each lived with her for many years and was an unforgettable character.

She tells me her house contains more books than she will ever have time to read! Reading and writing have been her life.

Woman in Blue & White is available from Amazon (US) and Amazon (UK)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Deep Breaths: Tales of Hope and Inspiration @TerrorFoxHall #FREEAudioBooks #TwoPaths


It's always a great pleasure for me when the hugely talented Tara Fox Hall pops over to my blog and today she's in a reflective mood and also a very generous one, since she's giving away multiple audio-book copies of her delightful collection of essays, to which I gave 5 stars.  You can read my review here. Enough from me, over to Tara.

Frost’s popular quote, “Two paths diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less travelled by…and that has made all the difference,” is familiar to many people, either from a social reference, a mention in a book or movie, or just from reading the poem. A choice between two futures is something we all face in our lives multiple times. In youth the decisions we make are often easier for us, not because they are any less weighty in consequence, but because we see before us many years of opportunity, no matter what we decide. 

The older we get, the more purposeful we become in our choices, aware that the clock that was quietly ticking since our birth is now slowly winding down. The reality that we all must die someday isn’t something to give much thought about in the first few decades of life, unless its experienced firsthand, such as with the loss of a parent or sibling. That’s something that’s going to happen someday, but not anytime soon. 

When midlife approaches, suddenly we are all too aware of what we didn’t accomplish, and how little time is left. But the reality is that no one can know exactly how much time they have. There is no fairness in death, just as there is no fairness in life. There’s just life, with all of its good times and hardships, golden moments of perfect bliss and stark moments of horrible realization. 

If something is important for you to do in your life, don’t wait until you are fifty years old, or your child graduates from college, or you lose ten pounds to start making plans to make your dreams a reality. Futures aren’t set; we are actively changing our potential prospects every day we live by what we say and do. The fork that confronts you today won’t ever be revisited, even Frost knew that. 

Confront your challenges and embrace every opportunity that comes your way, as it may never come again. You only get one life. What is right for one person may not be right for another, so don’t base your notions of happiness and fulfillment on what the world, your friends and family, or society tells you should to give you serenity and contentment. Do be kind, respectful, and above all, true to yourself in your actions. No one is perfect, and not every action we take will always be the best one. Yet we can find our way back to who we want to be, in time, if we choose to. With each new dawn comes another chance to get it right, to make amends, to fulfill dreams, and to discover new possibilities. There are two paths waiting before you today; pick the right one. Which one is right? Only you can make that choice.


The author is giving away 18 free copies of this audiobook from Audible, first come, first serve! Email the author with “Audiobook of Deep Breaths” in the subject line, and you will be sent instructions and a code for a free Audible download of Deep Breaths: Tales of Hope and Inspiration.


Tara Fox Hall's writing career began in the pages of a small print magazine, Catnip Blossoms!, that a friend, Harald Moore, put out to promote his catnip farm in Johnsonville, New York. One short nonfiction article followed another, detailing her adventures saving wildlife, her experiences living on an acreage, and more than a few humorous recountings detailing the antics of her wacky pets.

Written to delight, fascinate, and move readers, her simple but enchanting stories of country life quickly found a following. Tara kept publishing stories for the next five years, even as the name of the magazine changed to Meanwhile and then to On the River when the catnip farm went out of business and Harald moved with his family to a new home near a river.

These previously published stories are collected here for the first time with new added content in the hopes of bringing a little more hope and inspiration into everyday life.

Amazon Link to Kindle and print versions (US)  (UK)

Author links:

Monday, January 11, 2016

Publishing: A lot of Smoke and Mirrors? By guest author Jan Ruth (@JanRuthAuthor)

In May 2015, I had the pleasure of hosting author Jan Ruth (who is firmly up there in my top ten favourite British authors) to talk about her publishing journey.  I therefore thought it would be interesting (as well as my great pleasure) to re-post an article Jan wrote for her own blog recently entitled Publishing: A Lot of Smoke and Mirrors, giving us the fascinating sequel to that journey. Here it is:

In which I’m made to eat my words as I come full circle through the maze of publishing to discover that the grass isn’t necessarily greener over there; it’s still mostly desert scrub from every direction…


Last year I wrote a general post about the publishing industry which resonated with a lot of independent authors.

It came about through sheer frustration at the lack of visibility and the cost of producing books. A turning point came when a small press offered a contract for Silver Rain. This is it, I thought. This is the change of direction I need… but be careful what you wish for! Don’t get me wrong in that I had huge delusional ideas at this stage. I was simply seeking greater visibility and some respite from the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

And all the outward signs were good: they took five back-catalogue titles and one new title, to make six contracts.

This material represented several years of my life, several thousand pounds’ worth of investment in terms of editorial advisory, editing, proofreading, designing, formatting for ebooks and paperbacks, advertising… I could go on. Producing a quality product and promoting it to its best advantage doesn’t happen by accident. If you don’t have these skills yourself, then one needs to employ freelance professionals, as I’ve reiterated many times. Of course, we know there are a lot of ‘home-made’ books out there which don’t quite cut it, but this is certainly not the case for all self-produced work. What is slightly disconcerting is that I discovered this isn’t necessarily the case for traditionally produced work, either!

If this is you and you are maybe considering that contract from a small press, think carefully. This is of course my specific experience over 12 months but my advice would be to submit one, stand-alone title before you make a decision to move completely to traditional publishing. I’d been used to working on a one-to-one basis with professional freelancers who knew my material well. But the change of pace and method of working may come as a shock. Your book becomes a commercial product held in a queue, maybe dropped down the enormous cliffside of titles waiting for attention if a more promising book or a more glamorous author comes along in the meantime. This is a hopeless situation when the previously hard-working self-published author has a substantial back-list waiting to be dealt with.
Jan Facebook Banner

3413411700_1de8699dbdThe process of trade publishing has less to do with the quality of material than you might presume, but it has a lot to do with what is or isn’t marketable at any one time. This isn’t bad business, it’s about making money to stay afloat. Small publishers are in exactly the same boat as the independents, but with far more overheads and problems with staff. Some of these staff may be inexperienced or learning ‘on the job.’ These small companies are up against the same fast-moving on-line industry as any independent but perhaps without the resources to manage it effectively, let alone build a lively following on Twitter; a following which has the power to engage.

Traditional publishing, by its very nature, is painfully slow and this produces a massive clash with the shifting sands of on-line business. We perhaps don’t realise how fine-tuned independents have become in this respect. We all know marketing is a full-time job. Looking after the detail which includes fine tuning those book descriptions and keywords, sustaining an active presence on social media sites, writing articles and taking advantage of the best days to run a promo deal for that new political saga set in Scotland… it’s not going to happen. Imagine trying to handle the marketing at this level for 500 authors with several titles each… Impossible. And publishers have no magic formulas or special concessions when it comes to on-line sales. A high degree of luck is still perceived as par for the course. So, no specific sales strategy, then…

And while we’re wading through these muddy waters of what defines a self-published book from a traditionally produced book, let me mention yet again two common misconceptions that seem to linger on despite the glaring facts: that traditionally published books are somehow superior, and that those high-ranking, best-selling books on the virtual shelves must be better somehow than those books bumping along the bottom of the Amazon rankings, or boxed up for a rainy day in the back of someone’s office. Wrong!

self-publish-cartoonOver the course of a year, my sales dropped lower than they’d ever been. My branding was confused and I was losing the tiny amount of traction I’d managed to gain in the market. Overall, I was left feeling enormously let-down and misinformed. Despite this, the experience was invaluable as a means to recognise exactly who I was and where I needed to be. Needless to say, I parted company with my publisher and I’m relieved to be back as an independent. My sales have increased, where previously they’d been depressed. This includes both ebooks and paperbacks (in a local shop). The overriding conclusion has to be that whatever I was doing before, was in fact more successful than I’d presumed!

Authors who’ve started their journey with a small publisher may know very little about the huge network of independent authors out there, let alone the complexities of social networking. ‘Oh, I’d rather leave all that to my publisher,’ is a common cry but maybe a mistake to ignore the bigger picture.

Orna Ross: The Alliance of Independent authors:
The independent network of freelance writers remains a growing industry. Many traditionally produced authors are making the move to publish themselves and cross to the dark side – although there are still problems with visibility, the overriding comfort is that there is never a compromise with the work you’ve produced and personal satisfaction cannot be left out of the argument. I’ve heard nightmare stories where authors with agents or publishers have been asked to re-write their books to a different genre or incorporate a different setting, because ‘Cornwall is trending right now.’ Bland covers, hit and miss advertising and the general lack of cohesion is not uncommon. The industry is flawed, floundering, and fluctuating. This is because there are real choices open to writers to maintain their individuality and creativity, and boats have been rocked.

uk-author-earnings-4I also think independent authors tend to be tremendously supportive and understand the value of teamwork. I’m not sure this carries over into the trade arena where a lot of authors there are happy to let their publishers assume the responsibility, in whatever capacity. Lots of first-time authors who’ve landed that coveted contract for a first book are struggling with the on-line media. 

i18n-bestsellers-uk-top-100000-correctedTrade publishing, no matter its size is still something of a closed-shop and this is where the vast majority of authors are unaware of the basics because they’ve come in at a level where the opportunities to learn, are restricted. The days of hiding in a garret and leaving it all to the agent or publisher ceased to exist when the Internet happened. Now, readers, customers, clients or whoever, seek out that social interaction which goes beyond selling the product. There’s only one person who can sell your personality and that is you. There might only be one person who can sell your material on-line, and guess who it is… the good news is that you get to keep all the royalties!

So, before you sign on the dotted line, ask exactly what the publisher can specifically do for you which can’t be accessed in any other way. And above all, be careful what you wish for.
Jan Ruth. Dec 2015.