Beta Reading

Several weeks ago, before the world turned topsy turvy, I offered up my services as a beta reader to several authors. My timing could not have been worse! I did some research, put together some feedback worksheets and put myself out there for clients. Then, the world changed. My world was not spared this change, and I have found myself reading more about what is happening in the great wide “out there” and focusing less on these amazing manuscripts I have been given.

After a few scary weeks, filled with the unknown and people (family) around all the time, my new normal has begun. I am satisfied with my altered life and am excited about getting back to my beta reading; both finishing up my previously accepted manuscripts and taking on a few more.

What is beta reading? one may ask. In the simplest form, it is reading a manuscript before it is sent to agents or publishers (or self-published) to look for plot holes, character issues, glaring grammatical errors and the likes. The hope is to further polish a novel before it gets into the hands of readers and reviewers who will either love it or hate it.

I had a spate of poorly edited advanced reader copies at the end of last year into the beginning of this year, and thought that perhaps if there were a few more people offering beta reading services (for free or a nominal fee), then maybe more new authors would use them. So far, I have not been disappointed. I have gotten a number of requests and the several manuscripts I have read have been more polished than some of the published works I have encountered.

So, while I may not have picked the best time to start a new endeavor, the idea of starting something new when life has taken on a new normal is exciting. And now that my life for the foreseeable future is somewhat more predictable, I am thrilled to be embarking on this experience.

Pandemic Traveling

So, 2020 has been a crazy year! I was pleased to wake up this morning and realize May has arrived. The weather is getting warmer, the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. Through much of March, and all of April, I did not physically travel any further than my neighborhood. My dog and I enjoy our daily walks, but in our current situation, we have not ventured as far as we did in the Fall. Thank goodness I am a reader. Through my books, I have (vicariously) been all over the world. I have read about places I have been, and places I have not been. I have read about times I remember, and times before I was born, and times not yet reached yet. I am grateful that I am a reader and have no need to feel limited or isolated during my lockdown experience.

Some books are character driven, some are plot driven, but occasionally, I will find a book where the setting becomes so alive, it transports me there. Whether it’s a fast-paced thriller, or a study of character, a book with a strong sense of place transforms the way I feel about my experience. One of the best examples I have read recently is <u>The Dry</u> by Jane Harper. Maybe traveling to the Australian desert in the middle of a drought would not top my vacation wish list, but this gripping mystery took me there and added atmosphere to the small-town mystery.

I have read a handful of other books that allowed me to experience upper Michigan, Siberia, the Old West and present day Cleveland, Ohio. Not every book with an interesting setting inspires the sense of place, but I enjoy the ones which do. I will be keeping my eyes open for more atmospheric titles as I move through my spring and summer reading. At the moment, I think I am about ready for a Caribbean trip, maybe that will help me choose a fresh book for my weekend reading.

Have you read any good books recently which evoke a strong sense of place?

Engrossing Mystery

Let Justice Descend by Lisa Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From the publisher:<I> “Three days before a key election, U.S. Senator Diane Cragin is electrocuted on her own doorstep—a shocking twist in an already brutal political race. Cragin’s chief of staff is quick to blame rival Joey Green, a city development director who’s had his hand in every till in town for over twenty years.
Maggie and Jack have their own theories, especially after discovering a fortune in cash in the senator’s safe. But as they follow the money through the treacherous landscape of Cleveland politics, they find many more millions in play—and more suspects.
As Jack says, “Anyone can be dangerous, when they have what they think is a good reason.” He should know. Now a Herald reporter is perilously close to discovering the truth about Jack’s penchant for acting as both detective and executioner. With each passing hour, the stresses of the impending election expose new fractures and corruption at the city’s highest levels. And as one murder leads to another, and another, Maggie and Jack’s only hope of stopping a killer is an alliance that’s growing ever more fragile.”</I>

After reading several less-polished novels, I decided I wanted to read a book from a more experienced writer; this book fit the bill.

As the fifth book in a series, by an author who has multiple series, I was confident I was choosing a better edited book. I was, however, also a little worried about jumping in to a new series. Once I started reading though, I did not want to stop. With a less well known (or at least depicted in fiction) setting, a clever murder, and a cast of characters involved in local politics, this book was entertaining from start to finish.

I was hesitant to choose this title, it’s the fifth in an established series, but it hit several other boxes when I was seeking a new title. I was pleased to see I did not miss much by jumping in late to this series. I will look for the earlier books, as the events hinted at in the fictional past are intriguing.

I haven’t read many books set in Cleveland. One branch of my family spent 20 years in Akron, outside of Cleveland, so I did find it fun to revisit the area. It’s been a number of years since I was there, but I could get a glimpse at the city I remember visiting many years ago.

Much of what interested me about this book was the political intrigue. The players in the election and on-going projects shed an unflattering, but believable look at the interplay between government and business. The politics may have overshadowed the characterization of those involved, but I did not find myself confused about who was who, just, sometimes who was playing for which team.

As a mystery, I appreciated the number of plausible suspects and the myriad of motives. As a suspense novel, I did not feel a lot of tension until the end, but it was certainly there as well. As a romance novel (not my favorite), there were some romantic elements, but nothing overly distracting from the story.

I am looking forward to reading more of this series, especially working from the beginning to get to know Maggie and Jack.

This book should be available now.

I received an advanced review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily. Thank you to Book Sirens!

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Debut Thriller

The Mulholland Files

The Mulholland Files by Sandy Jones

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: <I>”Edward is enjoying his semi-retirement, but when a mysterious photograph lands on his doormat, he knows it spells trouble. Pulled back into a world he thought he’d left behind for good, his new relationship with Abby is put to the test and both of their lives are in danger…

The mystery deepens and Edward’s choices are limited. Who are the people in the shadows and just who should he trust? Why did this woman contact him and what does she know?

As Edward’s comfortable life is blown apart by the revelations that unfold, he desperately searches for the truth and struggles to keep one step ahead of his pursuers. Will he recognise the danger confronting him before it’s too late?”</I>

Another fun story found on NetGalley.

I enjoyed my experience with Edward and Abby, I don’t feel like I have gotten to know either of them very well, but they entertained me for our few hours together. This was a fast-paced thriller. There was quite a bit of intrigue and I was never sure who (if anyone) I should trust.

Being unfamiliar with British Intelligence and the general geography in this book, I may not have gotten as much out of this read as another reader. However, I did find myself wrapped up in the intrigue as Edward and Abby moved through their region and investigated the super secret plans of some in the espionage world.

I would have liked to see the characters more fully explored. I felt I couldn’t keep all of Edward’s former colleagues straight and never trusted any of them. But for a debut novel, that may have been part of keeping the reader guessing.

There were some convenient coincidences to make Edward and Abby’s experiences more comfortable. Anyone have a couple of spare houses and cars just laying around? It is a different life than mine, but I found it a bit unlikely at times.

Still, this was an interesting adventure into a conspiracy that was tightly drawn. I would recommend this story to others and would happily get better acquainted with the main pair and their future exploits.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my review copy. I leave this review voluntarily.

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Starting a new month, and a new year, and maybe a new decade, can offer an opportunity to set out new goals for anybody. I am not prone to New Year’s Resolutions; but I do like setting goals, and this feels like as good a time as any to set up some new reading goals for myself.

In 2019, I liked to read and share my reading of mystery stories. This was a little stifling and I did not share as much as I would like. So, I am going to not read and review only mysteries in 2020. I do like to read deeply within genres, comparing and contrasting styles techniques and especially changes over time. I expect to spend a month to six weeks on a few genres throughout the year. These will pop up, but not be continuous.

I also limited myself mostly to new and soon-to-be-released titles through much of 2019. I want to continue sharing new titles I find on NetGalley and BookSirens, but I am going to spend some more time with the classics and titles I have missed and post more of my thoughts about such titles.

One of the ways I choose books is by participating in reading challenges. These challenges set out a list of criteria, and encourage me to seek out titles I may or may not have had on my radar. I am looking forward to sharing more of my responses to various challenges I follow in 2020.

In general, I want my 2020 to be filled with interesting reads, and hope to share more of my thoughts and responses to the things I read! Once I have my lists organized, I will post some links to the challenges and my reading plans for you to peruse.

Good Bye 2019!

It’s the last day of the year, again! Unbelievable. The end of the year is a great time to look back at all we have for which we can be grateful and the joys we were offered. For me, I know it was a spectacular year. My husband and I bought a house in a new town which we love. We adopted a very special dog who has brought much happiness to our home. We have watched our nephew play football with a team he has always followed, our nieces have started kindergarten and third grade and we are getting ready to welcome a new niece early in 2020.

Through the year, I have been blessed to find good books, be recommended good books and to revisit good books. I have read some not so great books, but it’s the good ones that tend to stick with me. I am hoping 2020 will continue to be filled with enjoyable and thought-provoking reads.

My hope is that all who read this also have much for which they can be grateful and are looking forward to exciting new things in 2020! Happy New Year to all.

Days of Rock and Roll-Book Review

Days of Rock & RollDays of Rock & Roll by Kelly Holm
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book Synopsis: “Ariana is a very talented photographer who agrees to photograph her ex-boyfriend Zak’s band, Dark Horses, for Sound Trip magazine. Zak is thrilled and plans to use the occasion to win her back. However, when Ariana arrives, she catches Zak in a very compromising situation with Hollywood starlet Josie Winters, who wants Zak for herself.
Before Zak can explain to Ariana that what saw was a complete misunderstanding, Ariana mysteriously disappears in the middle of the night, and Zak is filled with guilt and wonder. When he realizes that she has been kidnapped, he’ll stop at nothing to find her. Will Zak find Ariana before it’s too late?
Days of Rock & Roll is a compelling tale of suspense, intrigue, and humor that will keep you reading until the last page.

This book started out interesting. We have two characters with fascinating lives: a travel photographer and a rock star. They have a lot of history and are now becoming reacquainted after almost a decade. The first half of the book almost worked. There were some annoying style choice (Ya instead of Yeah, and also using ya for you; tuff instead of tough, etc), but overall, I was rolling with the story and wondering how things may work out between these two.

And then, the book went a bit off the rails for me. Rick, the crazy ex-boyfriend, kidnaps both sisters (not at the same time) and suddenly the story becomes a very different experience.

I had some personal problems with the early sections, like, if your brother had a heroin problem, why are you comfortable casually snorting coke? Drug use may be a stereotypical rock star issue, but it was treated somewhat cavalierly throughout this story.

This was an OK book, not necessarily for me and I am not sure I will recommend this without reservation, but it was OK for an afternoon of reading.

Thank you to BookSirens for my review e-copy. This review is my own and has been left voluntarily.

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An Earlier Book by Jeff Bond

The Winner MakerThe Winner Maker by Jeff Bond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the Publisher: “Bob Fiske — the 74-year-old dinosaur who’s taught Honors English and coached varsity football for five decades — is missing.

To his Winners, class favorites Fiske designated over the years for their potential to “Live Big,” it’s heartbreaking. Fiske did more than inspire with soaring oratory; he supported their ambitions into adulthood. Four of his brightest former stars reunite to find him, putting high-octane careers on hold, slipping police barricades, racing into the wilds of Northern Michigan for clues about the fate of their legendary mentor.

Others don’t see a legend. They see an elitist whose time has passed.

When a current student — female — disappears just hours into the Winners’ search amid rumors of inappropriate meetings, the Great Man’s reputation is a shambles.

Feints, betrayal, explosive secrets from their own pasts: as facts emerge, each Winner must decide how far they’ll go for Fiske. Can the truth redeem him? Or has this cult of hyper-achievement spawned a thing so vile none of their lives will survive intact?”

I devoured this book in a single afternoon.

This book reminded me of the movie The Breakfast Club, but 10 years later. We have the jock, the Homecoming Queen, the nerd, and the mute one all brought together to search for one man who is missing and may be a criminal.

This group was not linked by detention, but maybe the opposite: an elite group of students tapped to be Winners by the teacher/coach. When he goes missing, they all come back to help find him and hopefully clear his name of wrongdoing.

I enjoyed the story. I did not think it fit neatly into one specific genre box, but chose to read it as it sounded mysterious. It could also be a contemporary story, a thriller, or a comment on society. The characters and their relationships played a strong role in the story, thus allowing it to cross many of the genre lines. There was friendship, marriage and parenting issues, unrequited love, loyalty, elitism, high school drama and much more included in these pages.

Unlike Bond’s other work (Blackquest 40), which I read earlier this year, this one was a slower story. There was time to get to know a little more about the characters and to ferret out what happened in the past and why it was germane to the mystery at hand.

I would not hesitate to recommend this book to others and will watch for future titles by this author.

Thank you to the author for a free copy in exchange for my honest thoughts about this book.

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Blood BrothersBlood Brothers by Nick Pope
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A terrifying scenario that could be all too real. Nick Pope creates a gripping tale of good versus evil. Coordinated terrorist attacks across London have caused wide-spread panic. After a particularly gruesome attack, the number 2 bad guy decides to change sides. Can he truly help take down the leader? Can we trust him? Has he really flipped or is this part of the coordinated attacks?

This story reads like an action film. There are airplanes being shot down, guns being fired, blood everywhere. And yet, the attention to detail and the realism offered about the government response to such an event make this a compelling read.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC in exchange of my honest opinion.

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The Dreams of the Eternal CityThe Dreams of the Eternal City by Mark Reece
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was excited about this title from NetGalley. It had an interesting dystopian premise, offered a debut novel from a new author, and intrigued me immensely. Unfortunately, the execution of this novel was not fantastic.

The story of a society in which sleep is regulated should be full of information about sleep and why it’s important. Or maybe about how an over-reaching government can end up harming its citizens in unexpected ways. Or about an uprising of the people to shut down such an institution. This book didn’t really address any of those topics, at least not deeply enough.

Mark Reece has published many short stories, but this is his first novel. While I may struggle with reading short fiction, I tend to enjoy longer fiction from short story writers. Maybe it is the part of me that enjoys Hemingway. There is a lot to be said about concise writing, even in fiction that can tell a wonderful story. Unfortunately, I did not get that from this novel.

While the opening pages presented a big, exciting scene, the majority of the first half of this book was slow. I found the characters to be largely flat and had very little interest in their well-being. The dialogue was boring and there was a lot of focus on the mundane. About half-way through, the story picked up and the slow suspense that had been simmering came to the forefront. Where the beginning was somewhat slow, the pace of the story became much faster as we hurled toward a lackluster ending.

Overall, I would have a hard time recommending this book to other readers. I did see some promising elements and will likely read future offerings from this author, but this book as a whole just did not do it for me.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for a free copy of this ebook.

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